The spring campaign in the west began May 8. Cleburne's first action was to reinforce Dug Gap. The situation appeared bleak but Granbury's brigade arrived in time to claim the gap and actually faced very little skirmishing. The next dawn Cleburne sent out pickets to see if the Federals were still there and found out they were gone. It appeared the Dug Gap attack had been a feint but Johnston wasn't sure. The movements of Cleburne's division over the next few days illustrate the difficulty Johnston was having determining Sherman's intentions. The night of May 9 Johnston pulled Cleburne's division out of the gap and sent them to Resaca. After a few hours there Hardee sent Cleburne back to Dug Gap, arriving there at sunset on May 10. The next day at 7 AM he was again on the move towards Resaca.
During the initial part of the Georgia campaign Cleburne's division saw little combat. During the May 14-15 battle of Resaca Cleburne's division was in the center of the lines and saw very little action. Their next movements took them to Adairsville, Kingston and Allatoona. While at Allatoona (May 20-23) Cleburne likely learned of the death of Kit, his youngest half brother. Kit was a lieutenant in the 5th Kentucky and was killed in a skirmish at Dublin, Kentucky on May 10. Twice during the campaign Cleburne was in combat; at Pickett's Mill and Kennesaw Mountain. Both times he turned in sterling efforts.
May 27 found Cleburne at Pickett's Mill. Early in the morning he moved his men to the right, extending the army's flank, by his own initiative. He had been in reserve but now was in the front. Luckily for him this is exactly the spot the Union army would attack. If Cleburne had not moved his division the Union would have struck an open flank but now they ran into one of the better divisions of the army. The fighting centered around a sinkhole while the Union kept probing in the dense woods for the right flank, Cleburne held this line for several hours. At dusk two of Lowrey's regiments, the 33rd Alabama and 8/19th Arkansas, pulled back a few dozen yards to straighten the line. When Cleburne's staff saw this they though it was the beginning of a rout and sent two regiments to bolster the line. This confusion almost lead to a real rout but Cleburne was at the spot and soon straightened everything out.
That night Union soldiers could be heard rustling in the brush. Cleburne's men were not sure what was going on and Cleburne ordered Granbury to send out some pickets to figure it out. Granbury suggested using the whole brigade instead. At 10 PM they fixed bayonets and charged into the woods. There were some Federals there but they ran away after firing a volley and Granbury gathered about 200 prisoners. For the third time (Missionary Ridge and Ringgold Gap) Cleburne had repulsed a numerically superior enemy. Partly this was due to Howard committing his men piecemeal but Cleburne had prepared his position well with good trenches and interior lines to shift men. His brigade commanders also worked well as a team and would reinforce each other without waiting for the orders to be routed through Cleburne.
On June 14 Leonidas Polk was killed by an artillery shell. Johnston appointed Loring, Polk's senior division commander, the new corps commander, apparently Johnston never considered Cleburne. Loring was 10 months Cleburne's senior in rank and was from the same corps. A week later Stewart took permanent command of the corps. He was junior to Cleburne by four months and from Hoods' corps, but he was a West Pointer, had not been anti-Bragg and had not supported Cleburne's emancipation proposal. If Cleburne objected to these command decisions he never said anything about it. That's one of Cleburne's characteristics, he never complained openly about decisions concerning rank.
Sadness again hit Cleburne when his good friend Lucius Polk was wounded on June 15. He was severely wounded in the legs by an artillery shell, the second Polk to be hit by artillery in two days. Polk would resign from the army in July and return to his home near Columbia, Tennessee.
While Cleburne performed well at Kennesaw Mountain on June 27 it was not the sort of battle that needed the incredible to turn the tide for the Confederates. Quite simply Cleburne laid out good earthworks. The Union in his front lost 300 killed and 500 wounded. Cleburne lost just 2 killed and 9 wounded. Sherman listed his losses as 2500, then revised it to 3000 but even that was probably not correct.
Two months of campaigning had reduced his division from 5218 to 3855. Buck later claimed that morale in the army was higher when they reached the Chattahoochee than when it left Dalton. On July 17 Hood replaced Johnston as army commander. Cleburne was upset at Johnston's removal but mostly kept his feelings to himself. He also was not a fan of Hood and thought Hardee should have gotten the promotion instead. When Hood took over the army he needed a new corps commander for his old corps. He turned to Hardee for advice and Hardee selected Cheatham. Cheatham was Cleburne's senior but that had not stopped Hardee from previously advocating for Cleburne. Hardee had been Cleburne's commander for most of his service and it is possible that Hardee wanted to kept Cleburne with him or that Hardee thought Cleburne was best suited at divisional command. One thing that Symonds pointed out was that at command conferences Cleburne never spoke of his own ideas, he would freely give opinions of ideas that other brought forth but he never came up with ideas (with one notable exception).
Cleburne would be involved in two of the battles around Atlanta, at Bald Hill on July 22 and at Jonesboro at the end of August. At Jonesboro he would command a corps for the only time in his career.
The days of retreating were now at an end for the Army of Tennessee, they had run out of real estate and Hood had an aggressive nature. At Bald Hill Cleburne's division would be in its first battle under Hood. They were part of the flanking move on the east side of town. The attack was to begin at dawn but didn't get rolling until 1 PM. It was men of Smith's brigade who killed McPherson in this initial attack. Around 2 PM Govan ran into trouble and Cleburne ordered Lowrey to come up behind Govan to hit the entrenched line. The aide delivering the message noticed a gap forming between Cleburne and Walker and told Lowrey of it. Lowrey moved to fill this gap instead of following Cleburne's orders but when Cleburne was told of Lowrey's decision he approved of it, blind obedience to orders was not Cleburne's style. Govan's men though did push the Union back to Bald Hill and the next attack was coordinated. It appeared that the break through was at hand but after an hour of fighting Cleburne's division withdrew.
The battle had been hard on Cleburne's division. The division lost 1388 men, which exceeded total casualties since the beginning of the campaign in May. Thirty of forty field officers were killed or wounded, including 8 of 15 regimental commanders. James A Smith was badly wounded and turned command of his brigade over to Granbury. Lowrey lost 578 of 1000 men. Hood claimed a victory but the army could not stand many more such victories.
After three days of fury Cleburne's division was withdrawn into Atlanta. Sherman's force disappeared and Hood used the time to reorganize his army. SD Lee had arrived to take over Hood's corps on a permanent basis and Cheatham reverted to division command. Instead of replacing Walker (who had died near McPherson) Hood broke up his division and parceled out the remaining brigades. Cleburne was given Mercer's Georgia brigade, commanded by Colonel Charles Olmstead. Mercer's brigade had been in Savannah until recently and were basically green soldiers. Cleburne also did not think much of Olmstead.
By July 27 it was somewhat clear that Sherman's disappearance did not mean he was retreating, just that he was going to try to flank Atlanta from another direction. That day Cleburne moved to the west and occupied a mile and a half of trenches north of the Augusta Railroad. His 3000 men meant he had about 1 man per yard. Not much happened in this area until late August. On August 30 Hardee was summoned to Atlanta to confer with Hood and Cleburne took over control of the corps while it marched to Jonesboro. Hood told Hardee to take command of Lee's corps and use the two corps to drive the Federals back. Hardee arrived back at Jonesboro a few hours before daylight on August 31. The Federals had about 20,000 men and were well entrenched. Cleburne would get to continue to command Hardee's corps for the time being.
Hardee planned to strike the Union with two prongs, Cleburne attacking first from the south and making a right wheel, driving the Union flank north. When the moment seemed right Lee's corps would join in on Cleburne's right. Due to some confusion Lowrey, commanding Cleburne's division, thought the objective was to drive the Union across the Flint River. Granbury began the assault at 3:30 AM but instead of wheeling right he continued west and drove the Union cavalry across the river. Lowrey would claim that Granbury attacked contrary to orders but two other brigades in the division followed Granbury's example. Brown's division on Lowrey's right attacked correctly but did not fare well as they lacked support and also had an open left flank. Maney now moved to fill the gap on Brown's left but suspended the attack as he asked Cleburne about support. Hardee told Cleburne to call off the attack and while Cleburne's corps was in shambles it was not the whole reason Hardee called an end to the battle. Lee had decided not to wait for Cleburne's attack and had attacked an hour before Cleburne did. This assault was a disaster and was the primary reason Hardee called it all off. Cleburne had not improved his reputation. Some blame could be placed on the divisional commanders, especially Lowrey, but Cleburne had also not communicated a clear battle plan.
That night the Confederate fell back closer to Jonesboro. Lee's corps was sent to near Rough and Ready. The next day, September 1, they could see two Union corps bearing down on their position. For awhile it was not clear if Sherman would attack or be content to place his force between Hardee and Atlanta. At 3 PM Sherman attacked. The Union suffered severe losses, similar to Kennesaw Mountain, but they had too many men for the Confederate to deal with and eventually gained the position. Govan and nearly 600 men of his brigade (nearly the entire brigade) was captured. At dark Sherman ended the attack. If he had continued to attack he might have destroyed Hardee's corps but he had achieved his objective, Atlanta was now untenable. That night Hood abandoned Atlanta.