General Sherman’s Application of Mass and Maneuver During the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (The American Civil War)

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The battle of Kennesaw Mountain was a critical event of the Atlanta Campaign for both the Union Army and the Confederate Army. General Sherman’s poor application of the principles of Maneuver and Mass resulted in the Union forces loss of the battle and the senseless slaughter of several thousand of his own men. In May of 1864, northern opinion had significantly soured against the war and most people simply wanted the war to end. President Lincoln and George McClellan, Lincoln’s challenger, made it a presidential campaign issue. In the North, Lincoln’s reelection depended on a decisive victory as soon as possible. In the South, Confederate President Jefferson Davis grew frustrated and impatient. Davis wanted a decisive victory in the south that would break the north’s will to continue the fight. Genera! Grant instructed General Sherman to punch through the Southern defenses and capture Atlanta. Because the Army of Northern Virginia was doing so well, Atlanta’s importance as a rail junction and manufacturing center began to take precedence over Sherman’s primary’ objective of destroying the Confederate Army. Thus, Grant probably perceived Atlanta as the Confederate’s strategic center of gravity. The capture of Atlanta would sever the logistical support of the Army of Northern Virginia and defeat General Joseph E. Johnston, the Confederate campaign commander, at the same time. General Johnston was significantly outnumbered. His strategy was to conduct a classic delay and stall Sherman’s advance toward Atlanta until the north simply lost the will to continue the fight. Johnston hoped Sherman’s logistical tail would be stretched too far for him to sustain the offensive. General Johnston conducted no offensive operations during the campaign, which may be considered a significant mistake. Sherman outflanked the Confederate positions until reaching Kennesaw Mountain. At this point, he was hindered from successfully continuing his flanking maneuvers by weather, terrain and his own supply lines. This was Sherman’s culminating point. General Sherman failed to correctly employ the principle of maneuver by conducting a frontal assault on the well prepared Confederate defensive positions on Kennesaw Mountain. He failed to place the confederate forces in a position of disadvantage. Moreover, he significantly increased Union losses by ignoring the principal of surprise when he conducted his attacks during daylight. From their defensive positions on the mountain, the confederate forces could clearly see the approach of Sherman’s forces toward Kennesaw mountain. Sherman further failed to consider the principle of mass by ordering his forces to assault the mountain with inadequate numbers and without concentration of combat power to penetrate Johnston’s well fortified entrenchments. Although Sherman eventually pushed the Confederate forces back and seized Atlanta, he failed to destroy the rebel army and it therefore remained an offensive threat to Union forces in the South.

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