General Sherman in Atlanta

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General Sherman devastated Atlanta during his 1864 "March to the Sea." 

This drawing depicts the Union general and some of his men in Atlanta during September, 1864.  Click on the image to expand its view.

Sherman’s objective, among other things, was to break the Confederacy’s ability to make war.  To do that, the Union Army would employ a “scorched earth” policy.  Troops would destroy railroad lines, cotton gins, power lines and whatever other infrastructure or manufacturing businesses they would encounter.

Along their marching trek, to the sea, they’d also deprive civilians of food, crops, livestock and whatever else the soldiers needed.  It was a "free-for-all" which was very costly for the South. 

That, of course, is exactly what Generals Grant and Sherman had in mind.

Atlanta burned.  The fire’s impact on the city, and its people, was profound.  Margaret Mitchell wrote about it in Gone with the Wind.   A way of life went up in smoke and ashes - and then - was "gone with the wind."

People in the South despised Sherman; people in the North praised him.  In fact, Northerners praised him so much that they sang about him with songs like this:

Our camp fires shone bright on the mountain
That frowned on the river below,
While we stood by our guns in the morning,
And eagerly watched for the foe,
When a rider came out from the darkness
That hung over mountains and tree,
And shouted, “Boys, up and be ready,
For Sherman will march to the sea.”

When cheer upon cheer for bold Sherman
Went up from each valley and glen,
And the bugle re-echoed the music
That came from the lips of the men,
For we knew that the stars on our banner
More bright in their splendor would be,
And that blessings from Northland would greet us
As Sherman marched down to the sea.    

Then forward, boys, forward, to battle,
We marched on our wearysome way,
And we strewed the wild hills of Resaca -
God bless those who fell on that day.
Then Kennesaw, dark in its glory,
Frowned down on the flag of the free;
But the East and the West bore our standard
As Sherman marched down to the sea.

Still onward we pressed till our banner
Swept out from Atlanta’s grim walls,
And the blood of the patriot dampened
The soil where traitor’s flag falls.
But we paused not to weep for the fallen
Who slept by each river and tree;
Yet we twined them wreaths of the laurel
As Sherman marched down to the sea.

Proud, proud was our army that morning
That stood by the cypress and pine
When Sherman said, “Boys, you are weary;
This day fair Savannah is thine,”
Then sang we a song for our chieftain
That echoed o’er river and lea,
And the stars on our banner shone brighter
When Sherman marched on to the sea.

The September 24, 1864 issue of Harper's Weekly contains a story on Sherman's capture of Atlanta, including quotes from a letter which Sherman wrote.  (The article, and the letter, use nineteenth-century words, concepts and references.)

ATLANTA, September 7.

On the 25th of August, pursuant to a plan of which the War Department had been fully advised, I left the Twentieth Corps at the Chattahoochee Bridge, and with the balance of the army I drew off from the siege, and using ... considerable artifice to mislead the enemy.

I moved rapidly south, reached the West Point Railroad near Fairborn on the 27th, and broke up twelve miles of it. When moving east my right approached the Macon Railroad near Jonesborough, and my left near Rough and Ready. The enemy attacked the right wing of the Army of the Tennessee, and were completely beaten.

On the 31st, and during the combat, I pushed the left of the centre rapidly to the railroad above, between Rough and Ready and Jonesborough.

On the 1st of September we broke up about eight miles of the Macon Read, and turned on the enemy at Jonesborough, assaulted him and his lines, and carried them, capturing Brigadier-General Gorman and about 2000 prisoners, with eight guns and much plunder. Night alone prevented our capturing all of Hardee's corps, which escaped south that night.

That same night, Hood, in Atlanta, finding all his railroads broken and in our possession, blew up his ammunition, seven locomotives and eighty cars, and evacuated Atlanta, which, on the next day, September 2, was occupied by the corps left for that purpose.

Major-General Slocum commanding, we following the retreating rebel army to near Lovejoy's station, thirty miles south of Atlanta, where, finding him strongly intrenched, I concluded it would not 'pay' to assault as we already had the great object of the campaign, viz., Atlanta.

Accordingly the army gradually and leisurely returned to Atlanta; and it is now encamped eight miles south of the city, and tomorrow will move to the camps appointed. I am now writing in Atlanta, so I could not be uneasy in regard to our situation.

We have as the result of this quick, and, as I think, well executed movement, 27 guns, over 3000 prisoners, and have buried over 400 rebel dead, and left as many wounded; they could not be removed.

The rebels have lost, besides the important city of Atlanta and stores, at least 500 dead, 2500 wounded, and 3000 prisoners, whereas our aggregate loss will not foot 1500,

If that is not success, I don't know what is.

(Signed) SHERMAN, Major-General.

The article concludes with these observations:

It was Hardee's corps, together with General S. L. Lee's and Cleburne's commands, which fought the battle of Jonesborough on the rebel side. The rebel Generals Anderson, Patten, and Cummings were wounded. The capture of Atlanta renders useless any of the rebel attempts on Sherman's communications.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Jan 20, 2020

Media Credits

Image, Library of Congress from September, 1864 issue of Harper's Weekly.

Harper's Weekly
September 24, 1864
Information and quotes, Page 611

First linked image, from the Library of Congress, depicts Union troops destroying railroad lines in Atlanta during Sherman’s march to the sea.  Photo by George N. Barnard (1819-1902) in 1864.

Second linked image, maintained by the Library of Congress, is “Sherman's march to the sea,” by Felix Octavius Carr (18221895), the artist, and Alexander Hay Ritchie (1822-1895), the engraver.  Date Created/Published:  c. 1868.


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