Five days a week, I board a train near I-285 in DeKalb County and ride west to work in downtown Atlanta. The line rolls through revitalized neighborhoods along DeKalb Avenue. We fly past coffee houses, trendy restaurants and an array of new condos and lofts.
I occasionally think about the Battle of Atlanta that was fought just outside the train windows. Moreland Avenue, Degress Avenue and what is now a parking lot in Inman Park-Reynoldstown saw furious combat.
The siege of Atlanta followed months of cat-and-mouse maneuvering between Union Gen. William T. Sherman and Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston.
By July 1864, President Jefferson Davis, who had a thorny relationship with Johnston, had grown tired of the general’s defensive posture, loss of ground and belief that the vital Southern city couldn’t be saved.
The ax fell on July 17, 146 years ago today.
Davis wrote to Johnston, “As you failed to arrest the advance of the enemy to the vicinity of Atlanta, far in the interior of Georgia, and express no confidence that you can defeat or repel him, you are hereby relieved from command...”
John Bell Hood (left) now commanded the Army of Tennessee. Within days, the army suffered stinging losses at the battles of Atlanta, Peachtree Creek and Ezra Church. The city fell a few weeks later.
Some contend that perhaps Johnston was not aggressive or daring enough. But I know in Atlanta Bell was too aggressive. And he lost much of his troops shortly afterward at Franklin, Tenn.
Would Atlanta have been saved if Johnston remained in command? Probably not.
I’ve encountered Joe Johnston several times over the years during my trips to Manassas, Seven Pines, Kennesaw Mountain and at Bennett Place near Durham, N.C., where he surrendered his army in April 1865.
He was a different general from Robert E. Lee. I think he may have been more practical, given the circumstances.
Which of them was more suited for the Confederacy’s situation?
I’ll keep pondering that on my daily train rides.