Submitted by October 1, 2005
Georgia Department of Commerce
Jack Minter, Director
100 State Capitol
Atlanta 3, Georgia
Nelson M. Shipp, Manager
Public Information and Research Division
THE BATTLE OF ATLANTA
As an inland city of the Deep South, Atlanta had had little fear of actual bombardment, despite the knowledge that its five railroads and many war manufactories made it the goal of Northern troops determined to cripple the Confederate Army by cutting off its main source of supply, As a local preparedness measure, however, in May 1864, all males between the ages of 16 and 65 were registered at the courthouse on Washington Street and equipped with arms" But even then, with the fighting only 100 miles away, Atlanta people were not gravely apprehensive since the enemy had been driven from the State at Chickamauga the preceding fall. General William T. Sherman, however, had his eyes on Atlanta, "the citadel of the Confederacy", and by means of his semicircular flanking movements to the rear of the exhausted Southern troops had progressed in a few weeks as far as Kennesaw Mountain, only 22 miles distant, from where the first faint sounds of firing were heard in the city.
The contending forces pushed on to the Chattahoochee River, the Northern line like a giant whip that continually curved around and snapped at the heels of the Confederates, turning them ever southward. By July 9 Sherman's 23rd Corps (of the Army of the Ohio) had crossed the river near Soap Creek, entrenching close by, and that night General Joseph E. Johnston with his Confederates crossed near Bolton, camping northeast of the crossing. On the night of the 17th Johnston received President Davis' order relieving him of the command and giving it to General John B. Hood, who completed Johnston's prearranged alignment of the troops north and east between the Federal trenches and the city. The Home Guard and "Joe Brown's Malish", 10,000 men between the ages of 16 and 65, had been dispatched to guard the river crossings, where they skirmished with small groups crossing the river.
By flanking maneuvers all the Federal companies, 106, 000 strong, had crossed by the 17th, and on the 18th were spread out fanwise from the mouth of Peachtree Creek to Decatur. Just beyond Decatur they wrecked several miles of the Georgia Railroad tracks. On the 19th, while Hood, with a total force of 47, 000 men, was forming his battle line facing Peachtree Creek, General George H. Thomas was crossing the creek with his Army of the Cumberland. The attack of William J. Hardee and Alexander P. Stewart, planned by Hood for one o'clock on the afternoon of the 20th while Thomas was still crossing, was delayed by a shift to the right over thickly wooded terrain. By four o'clock Thomas had reached the south bank and flung up light breast works.
The Confederates attacked at five main points along Thomas r line, which stretched out Collier Road from Peachtree to Howell Mill Road. About half-past four General W. B. Bate's men swooped down Clear Creek Valley east of Peachtree and charged up the slopes of Brookwood Hills to battle furiously with General John Newton's 4th Corps forces. General W. H. T. Walker advanced up Peachtree Road and assaulted Newton's corps on the front and right. The fighting quickly spread westward. General George Maney struck the front of General W. T. Ward's division just west of Peachtree Road. General W. W. Loring advanced on John W. Greary's line and, when Colonel Benjamin
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Harrison's men fired into his right, his left wing drove between the lines of Greary and A. S. Williams, pushing Harrison's brigade back to the creek. With the assistance of other Union forces, however, Harrison's line was quickly replaced. General E. C. Walthall attacked General Williams between Northside Drive and Howell Mill Road but the Confederates made no gains, and just before dark Bate made another sally without success. After five hours' fighting, a division of artillery that Thomas placed just east of the bridge raked the valley, forcing the Confederates to retire.
Estimated casualty figures for the Battle of Peachtree Creek are 5,000 Confederates and 2,000 Federals. Among those killed was Brigadier General C. H. Stevens, one of Walker's commanders. Three shells fell within the city, the first killing a little girl at the corner of Ivy and Ellis Streets.
About six o'clock in the evening General Hardee was ordered to send P. R. Clebrun's division, which he was holding in reserve, to aid General Joseph Wheeler, who was losing ground under fire from. B. McPherson's forces between the city and Decatur. It was not until daybreak of the 21st that Cleburne relieved Wheeler at Bald Hill (Leggett's Hill near the corner of Memorial Drive and Moreland Avenue), 'Where his men had retreated at sundown. Wheeler's orders were to extend his line to the right, but while the changes in position were taking place two Federal divisions assaulted the Confederates and drove them off the hill, which M. D. Legett was ordered to hold as a strategic point for firing on the Confederate State Navy rolling mills. Light skirmishing in this vicinity continued throughout the day. During the day the Confederate soldiers north of the city reconstructed fortifications at th~ northern corners of the inner defense lines, and in the night they moved back closer to the city.
That night Hardee I s corps, under order s from Hood, moved by a circuitous route through the southern part of the city to steal up behind McPherson's forces in the Leggett's Hill section. Hardee's men were to attack McPherson's rear at daybreak of the 22nd while in the hope of pushing the Union troops back to the creek. The plan was not realized because Hardee's battle-tired men were slow in traveling the IS miles to their destination and it was noon before they were ready to attack. Meanwhile, most of the Federals, starting as early as three 0'clock in the morning, had moved up to the abandoned outer defense trenches. Wholesale shifting of both the enemy and defending troops created restless anxiety among the citizens, who in mid-morning, repaired to housetops to watch developments.
The Battle of Atlanta began about noon when the divisions of Walker and Bate, under Hardee, broke into a clearing north of Glenwood Avenue and ran into T. W. Sweeney's division of the 16th Corps, just after it had turned from Clay Street into Fair Street (Memorial Drive). The intrepid Hardee, who had expected to come up back of McPherson's 17th Corps gave quick orders to left face, and the fierce battle that then ensued raged for more than two hours. The federals
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stationed north of the site shelled the horses. Federal infantry and artillery reinforcements hurried to repair the gaping line, and, the Confederates were stopped by the fresher and greater strength of the opposing forces. The battle was over by dark, but near Leggett's Hill there was intermittent rifle fire all during the night.
During the battle, young boys just entering their teens, old men, convalescents, refugees, and soldiers in the city on leave, grasping any article that might be used as a weapon, rallied to the aid of the Southern soldiers. The slaughter was terrific and, since there was no way of counting the dead not on Hood's roster, authorities believe that all casualty figures given are vastly underestimated. Computed losses, including the wounded and captured, vary from 6,000 to 10,000 Confederates, and from 4,000 to 7,000 Federals. The Confederate general Walker and the Union General McPherson were among those killed. Although the Federals were not driven back to the creek, Hood reported that his men had been greatly encouraged by the "partial success of the day. "
There were light skirmishes but not more real battles until 11: 30 in the morning of July 28 at Ezra Church. Four divisions of Confederate infantry, led by Generals Stewart and S. D. Lee, attacked the right flank of General John A. Logan's army of the Tennessee as it moved southwest of the city toward the Atlanta & West Point and the Macon & Western Railroads. The vastly outnumbered Confederates desperately fought Logan's men, who hastily flung up improvised breastworks of logs and of benches dragged from within the church. Again the attacking Confederates fought chiefly in the open and lost heavily. Generals Stewart, Brown, Loring, and Johnson were wounded, and about sundown General Walthall gave the command to cease fighting. Estimated losses were between 2,700 and 5,000 Confederates and 650 Federals killed and wounded. No definite advantage was gained by either side.
The Federals then settled down to a steady bombardment of/the city, but the firmly entrenched Confederates successfully resisted all attempts to break through the lines. On August 6, when Federal troops drew too close to the railroads (near Lee Street), Bate's Confederate division made two furious sallies against General G. W. Schofield's line, scattering the forces, capturing two stands of colors, and killing and wounding 800 men.
Damage to the city and the loss of civilian life mounted as bombs and Minie balls rained down. Although water was scarce, every householder was requested to keep a ladder and two buckets of water in readiness in the event an exploding shell set fire to his house. At strategic points around the city were stationed large guns, deafening in their response to the booming of the enemy's immense siege guns. The air was thick with smoke and the stinging smell of burnt powder, the streets were gashed with great shell holes, and houses were demolished. All during the day and night women, children and aged men scrambled in and out of the bombproof dugouts in back yards or scurried to and from warehouse basements. Hood says, "The ninth was made memorable by the most furious cannonade which the city sustained during the siege. "
Privation and disease added to the suffering within the city. Confederate money was almost valueless, and typhoid fever struck down soldiers and non-combatants alike. There were numerous fires other than those caused by bursting shell, usually at night, and the volunteer firemen, detailed to guard duty on the streets, worked under difficulty because the Federals made targets of the fires.
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During August the Federals concentrated most of their forces around the defenses that protected the two railroads to the southwest, but after the disastrous affair of the 6th they made no further advances toward the tracks. By the end of the month, the Northerners had relinquished hope of penetrating the city lines, and, skirting the firing trenches, they moved southward to cut the railroads farther down and to draw Hood's forces from the city. Sherman, however, left his 20th Corps at Atlanta to protect the captured Western Atlantic Railroad, which, repaired by his men, brought a daily average of 145 cars of supplies to the Federals.
On the 29th, the Union forces wrecked the Atlanta & West Point Railroad at Red Oak and Fairburn. Two days later the Battle of Jonesboro was lost by the Confederates, and with the cutting of the Macon & Western Railroad the city was isolated from outside supplies and military reinforcements. On the next day six Federal divisions completely routed Cleburne' s forces at Jonesboro and forced their retreat to Lovejoy Station.
Hood's only recourse was to try to divert Sherman from the stricken city. His troops began marching from Atlanta that afternoon, and he himself moved out at five o'clock toward Lovejoy Station. With the order to evacuate, the commissary warehouse was opened to the people, who, after months of short rations, hurried eagerly to their homes loaded with flour, syrup, sugar and hams.
The hours after midnight were long remembered. The city rocked with blasts and rumblings of earthquake dimensions, while crowds of tired, bedraggled soldiers from the trenches streamed through the streets, pushing south to join Hood. Five engines, a train of ordnance stores, and 80 cars of ammunition, together with Confederate warehouses were dynamited and kindled by Hood's rear guard before it marched out.
After a sleepless night the citizens waited apprehensively in the defenseless city, but the Federals remained quiet in their bivouacs. No messenger came from outside, and finally at nine o'clock on the morning of September 2, when the tension became intolerable, Mayor James M. Calhoun gathered together a few of the citizens. The group carrying a white flag and unarmed - one man having removed four pistols from his person at the mayor's suggestion that they disarm -rode three miles out Marietta Street to the Federal lines, where Mayor Calhoun formally surrendered the city.
Almost immediately, the troops began marching in, and between that time and the 7th, approximately 80,000 soldiers filed into the small city. Wallace P. Reed, an Atlanta historian, records; "At first the soldiers took what they wanted, but in the main they behaved tolerably well. II Camp-following traders moved in with their supplies of every thing from dry goods to the latest novels. A depot of quartermaster stores was opened.
Officers established their headquarters in some of the largest homes. The work of building new fortification lines was begun, and other measures were taken to prepare for defense in the event the Confederates tried to recapture the city. Fine residences were torn down and the materials used to build cabins for soldiers, tents were set up, and the city rapidly assumed the appearance of a gigantic army camp. Indeed it was Sherman's plant to make it one, and on September 4 he issued his order for evacuation by the citizens.
Because 3 the railroads to the south of the city were a tangle of twisted rails, he wrote General Hood on the 7th outlining a plan of evacuation for southbound refugees and proposing a two-day truce 2.t Rough and Ready. Hood
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agreed, at the same time protesting the inhumanity of driving innocent people from their homes. Five days later 1,565 white citizens with 79 loyal Negro servants were transported in wagons by Northern soldiers to Rough and Ready with trunks, bedding, and light furniture. One hundred men, stationed there by Hood, assisted them on to the railroad at Lovejoy Station. From there many of them went to Exile Camp, near Dawson, until they could return home. The other refugees fled to the north by the Western & Atlantic, chiefly to Tennessee and Kentucky, while most of the Negroes, whose numbers had been supplemented by those who had come great distances to camp around Sherman's lines during the siege, remained with the Federal troops. About 50 white families, presumably Union sympathizers and foreigners, also were allowed to remain during the 75 days of Sherman's occupation.
It was during this time that the Federal general, abandoning his pursuit of the elusive Hood through northwest Georgia, decided to destroy Atlanta and march to the sea, cutting the Confederacy in two with a broad patch of desolation. On November 14, torches were applied simultaneously in various parts of the city and the more substantial buildings were blown up by gunpowder. One of the Federal officers writing to his wife, said, "….all the pictures and verbal descriptions of hell I have ever seen never gave me half so vivid an idea of it as did this flame-wrapped city tonight. Gate City of the South, farewell."
While flames crackled and buildings crumbled around them, Sherman was serenaded by one of his bands and he said afterwards that he could never hear the "Miserere" from Trovatore without remembering that night. The next day he moved his troops out of the burning city on his destructive way to the coast and Savannah.