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Sherman’s Letter To Atlanta: A Neglected Classic In American Military Thinking
What the Gettysburg Address is to American political history, Major General William Sherman’s 1864 letter to the City Council of Atlanta is to American military history. It should be required reading for civilians and military professionals alike. Sherman’s gritty prose bridges the wild spirit of the frontier warfare of America’s past with its industrialized, idealistic future. Defining an “American way of war” has taken on a new urgency. As we consider our nation’s wars, present and future, Sherman’s letter is an underrated masterpiece.
Sherman’s plan to depopulate Atlanta of noncombatants and destroy its industrial capacity met resistance from the city’s residents. Sherman had none of it. “Now the war comes home to you you feel very different. You deprecate its horrors, but did not feel them when you sent car-loads of soldiers and ammunition, molded shells & shot to carry on war into Kentucky & Tennessee, desolate the homes of hundreds & thousands of good People,” he wrote. In his admonition of Atlanta’s city council, we hear echoes of America’s colonial frontier wars. Historian John Shy called those earliest conflicts “wars of annihilation.” For the first Americans, death by a random attack on an idle Tuesday was an everyday fear. Wars in that period were undertaken to wipe enemies out. Through celebrated military lore, the need to ground enemies into dust survived the Europeanization of the American military. Even in Sherman’s day, the rugged frontiersman was the romantic ideal of an American soldier.
Yet within this destructive vision, Sherman also casts an eye to the future. Sherman articulates a legal basis for the destruction. “Once admit the Union, once more acknowledge the Authority of the National Government, and instead of devoting your houses, and Streets and Roads to the dread uses of war. I and this army become at once your protectors, shielding you from danger let it come from what quarter it may.” Sherman’s war would be fought to reestablish the rule of law. Rather than a purely punitive campaign, the rebels only had to surrender and Sherman would be the first to welcome them back. Despite his aggressive rhetoric, during the March to the Sea Sherman ordered his commanders to avoid excessive force where it wasn’t needed. Unlike the war’s first years, Sherman also saw his application of military power as an extension of the people’s popular will: “I know that Such is the National Feeling. This feeling assumes various shapes, but always comes back to that of Union.”
The letter to the City Council of Atlanta can also be interpreted as a problematic document. Sherman’s contempt for the rebellion is on full display, and it can seem that he is relishing in war’s violence. While the idea of depopulating a city and laying waste to it is anachronistic, it bears noting that in some ideological quarters, Sherman’s violent message is celebrated. “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it” he wrote to the City Council. “You might as well appeal against the thunder storm as against these terrible hardships of war.” To some, this sounds like a perfect policy statement.
Sherman’s Letter to the City of Atlanta mirrors its mercurial author. It also represents the articulation of a known turning point in American military history. Careful study of history is needed now. Unpacking a decade of failure while assessing future conflicts demands it. Civilian policy makers and mid-grade staff officers would do well to study the letter in detail while undertaking these historical case studies. How and why we fight is, after all, the basis of strategy. Something the United States hasn’t exactly excelled at.
Kyle Gaffney received his Master’s Degree in History from William Paterson University.
William T Sherman- the Most Overrated General of the Civil war
William Tucumseh Sherman or &#8220Uncle Billy&#8221 in my opinion was the most overrated general of the civil war. He is usually ranked within the top four of most civil war rankings done. I think he was a good general, but not a top premier general.
&#8220Even Sherman, a future American military hero, sent his four regiments into battle not together, but in secession, one deadly advance at a time&#8221
-John J Hennessy The First Battle of Manassas
Sherman's first action came at bull run where he commanded a brigade in Tyler's division, he had mixed results. Sherman sent his regiments in one at a time, instead of in force as he should have, against Henry Hill. The first 3 regiments were repulsed one at a time with heavy losses. Than with some help from other union attacks at the same time on his flank, the last of Shermans regiment met with some success capturing a house held by the confederates and pushing them back under the pressure. Sherman's command, however, was than routed by a counterattack from the 8th and 18th Virginia. After his men routed, he would see no more action at Bull run. Sherman brigade suffered higher loses than any union brigade at Bull Run.
&#8220Sherman stumbled badly in his first independent command in Kentucky&#8221
-Thomas J Rowland George B Mcclellan and Civil war History in the Shadow of grant and Sherman
Sherman was transferred to a command in Kentucky where he literally went insane. After the defeat at Bull Run Sherman was scared and nervous of another confederate victory or attack. He started having asthma attacks, extremely nervous behavior, he did not sleep, had panic attacks, he contemplated suicide. He was described by citizens in his hotel as &#8220a bundle of nerves all strung to their highest tension.&#8221* he &#8220talked incessantly while never listening&#8221 &#8220pacing the floor, chain-smoking cigars.&#8221 He showed all the sighs of mania. Sherman claimed his force was outnumbered by Siomon Buckners 5-1 despite what every other general in the area said. *&#8220He outdistanced even McClellan in describing the vast enemy hosts assembling against him.&#8221 He said the state was infested by pro confederate forces and sympathy and was in imitate danger. He said Louisville was in imitate danger and he needed 200,000 men to hold Kentucky. Sherman would not leave the fort until massively reinforced and refused to go on the offensive.
Relived From Command in Missouri
Sherman was shipped to St Louis were again he was convinced the enemy was ready to pounce on the disorganized union forces their. A physicians declared him to nervous for command and sent him home to Ohio.
Sherman would in time recover mentally and be sent to a command with his friend General Grant. The next engagement he was involved in was the battle of Shiloh where because of grant, he was given command of a division. Sherman was the one man most responsible for allowing the confederate army to surprise attack the union forces on day 1 at Shiloh. This was a near fatal mistake that almost destroyed the entire union army under Grant. The main confederate force was opposed Sherman the day before the battle. Many regiments and soldiers of the south did nothing to concile the upcoming &#8220surprise attack&#8221 as men starting firing off shots [to clear muskets] sounded bugles and drums, drilled, and skirmished with the enemy in the woods all within 2 miles of the enemy main encampment.
Sherman &#8220Failed to inteprit acculturate the numerous signs of the confederate surprise attack on April 6 at Shiloh.&#8221
-David Martin The Shiloh Campaign
Sherman received multiple reports from his subordinates of large enemy units movements and skirmishing etc and he rejected them and even called one of his regiment commanders a liar. Sherman refused to even send them on to Grant. The day before the attack a few confederate soldiers taken prisoner boasted of the whole confederate army was near, yet these were also ignored by Sherman. Sherman did not even bother to scout the area he was in. Lew Wallace had to scout his area because Sherman failed to. Because of Shermans negligence, the union almost suffered its worst defeat of the war.
&#8220Sherman should have been court martialed he was guilty of gross negligence.&#8221
-Historian Otto Eisenschiml
Sherman himself fought hard once the battle was under way, but his command [division] was whipped and brook three times that day. His entire line collapsed and his command was saved from complete destruction by Mcclerand on day 1. After his poor performance at Shiloh, Sherman was given no direct command.
The union under the command of general Halleck moved on the vital rail junction of Corinth Mississippi with a force twice the size of confederates under Beauregard who had around 60,000 troops. However Halleck, Grant and Sherman all believed the true confederate force to be 130,000 men. So instead of attacking they waited in a siege. Beauregard had set up dummy guns and positions to fool the union command. He was also able to fool the union into thinking he was being reinforced when he was in fact retreating. Every time a train pulled in Beauregard had his men let out a loud cheer, this made the union think he was being reinforced, this allowed Beauregard to pull his men out safely.
In December of 62 Sherman was sent as part of grants first attempt to capture Vicksburg down the Mississippi river with 30,000 men. After landing, Sherman evaluated the position and decided on a frontal attack on the heavily fortified confederates under Pemberton who had a force of around 13,000. In a decision that makes Fredircksburg look like an easy task, Sherman assaulted and was repulsed over two days suffering heavy losses and 10 times the causalities the confederates suffered, a far worse ration than at Freadricksburg. After this horrific defeat Sherman was temporarily relived of command once more and was outranked by a political officer John Mcclerand who was &#8220almost universally despised in regular army circles.&#8221
Vicksburg was one of the great campaigns of the civil war and Sherman was given a corps to command by general Grant. However the credit belongs to Grant. It was his planning, maneuvering and command that led to the great victory. Sherman did not think Grants plan would even work. Mcpherson and Mcclernard did all the hard fighting at Raymond and Champions Hill. The only battle Sherman was involved in was the capture of Jackson Mississippi were he and other union forces skirmished with the greatly outnumbered confederates who were evacuating the town.
The retreating confederates within Vicksburg were outnumbered, beaten, low on morale and not fully prepared within Vicksburg. Grants army was victorious over multiple battles, high on morale and ready to capture the city, Grant decided to attack. On May 19 Grant ordered Sherman to assault Vicksburg and win the prize, Sherman's men attacked and were easily repulsed. This failed attack and first loss on the union army in the campaign was damaging to union morale and boasted confederate resolve to hold Vicksburg. Union losses of 157 killed, 777 wounded, and 8 missing, versus Confederate casualties of 8 killed and 62 wounded. &#8220The Confederates, assumed to be demoralized, had regained their fighting edge.&#8221 For the second time Sherman suffered 10X the losses of the defenders of Vicksburg. Grant would try one more time on the 22 with all his forces. Their was some limited success butt Sherman was repulsed and the union could not capture Vicksburg by assault and dug in for a siege.
Grant attacked Bragg to break out of Chattanooga and set up a plan that was to make Sherman out to be the hero and win the day. Sherman controlled a large force and was sent around the confederate flank for what was to be the decisive action and win the battle. Hooker and Thomas were to be the distraction and holding forces. The confederates sent a small force under General Patrick Cleburne perhaps the best infantry commander in the confederate army of Tennessee at the time to meet Sherman. Sherman was repulsed time and again by Cleburne with heavy loses. Cleburne outmaneuvered, out thought, and used the terrain better than Sherman, also courageously leading counter attacks that repulsed Sherman attacks.
&#8220Cleburne had bested Sherman&#8221
-Steven E Woodworth Six Armies in Tennessee University of Nebraska press 1998
Sherman's failures left Grant with no choice but to push full ahead with Thomas at the confederate center as &#8220Sherman's attack was going nowhere.&#8221 However Thomas would lead a charge up the fortified center of the confederates on Missionary ridge a place considered impossible to take and Thomas routed the confederate center while hooker would finally push through on his flank. The only place the confederates held the line was under Cleburne who could not be bested by Sherman. Cleburne had suffered so little that he was than able to cover the rest of the confederate armies retreat and avoid total disaster for the south.
So not only did Sherman fail to win the battle against the flank, Thomas won the battle against the confederate center over the worst terrain to attack. Where victory was most unlikely and against more men. Even Hooker finally won on his flank. The only thing that kept it from a total disaster for the south was Cleburne. Sherman could not even inflict enough damage to him to prevent him from covering the army's retreat.
The Capture of Atlanta
Sherman's campaign to capture Atlanta was by far his best performance of the war. His flank maneuvers that dislodged Johnson from multiple defensive positions make his campaign one of the great ones of the war. I do not wish to take away from the credit he fully deserves. However it also has to be put in context.
&#8220Confederate western command less skilled than their eastern coutnerparts, they also made egrigoius tactical decistions that enabeled Grant and Sherman to overpower them&#8221
-Thomas J Rowland George B McClellan and civil war history Kent state university press
Foremost Sherman fought in the west against sub par confederate generals. The generals he faced were Joe Johnson who was mediocre at best. Johnson had a habit of withdrawal that eventually led to his replacement with Hood. When in command in Virginia Johnson was losing ground to McClellan and constantly fell back, this Fabian tactics is what Johnston would become known for. Later Sherman faced the untested and dismal Hood. Also By 64 the confederate armies were a shell of their former selves. The confederate army under Johnson was low on morale, supplies and had suffered defeat and causalities that could not be replaced. When Johnston took command he had just 43,000, demoralized troops with large scale desertion. Johnston would be reinforced to around 66,000 and restore some morale to the army while in command.
Sherman for his campaign commanded 104,000 troops high on morale from recent victories and well supplied with a technological advantage over the enemy. Sherman would also receive replacements as the campaign moved on that gave him often a 2-1 advantage over the confederate force he faced.
However at Dalton Shermans flank maneuver was repulsed by Johnston, so Sherman accepted the flanking maneuver as planned by General Thomas with success. Than at the battle of Resaca US losses were 3,500 and CS 2,600 in another repulse of Sherman.
At Adairsville at a fork in the road Johnston set an ambush for Sherman and Sherman took the bait. Johnston was able to isolated McPherson 35,000 troops against his whole army. But happenstance union Calvary in the area and subordinate failure to attack on time saved McPherson. Johnson out did Sherman but Sherman was rescued by luck.
New Hope/ Pickett's Mill
&#8220There hasn't been more than twenty reb's there today&#8221
-William T Sherman
&#8220Once again Sherman found that he deluded himself when the federals encountered stiff resistance as they fell on the main confederate line&#8221
-John Canaan The Atlanta campaign
Sherman misread the strength of the enemy at New hope and Picketts Mill that led to costly frontal assaults. At the battle of new hope church US losses were 1,665 confederate losses were half that number. At Picketts mill US losses were 1,600 and confederates under Cleburne only 420. Sherman omitted this battle and its losses from his memoirs and his official reports. These battles along with the battle of Dallas stopped Shermans flanking maneuver in its tracks. During the month of May US losses were 9,209 to CS 8,500.
At the battle of Kennesaw mountain Sherman relied on frontal assaults against heavily fortified confederates. US losses were 3,000 CS 700. Sherman wanted to do more direct attacks on the fortified mountain justifying it by saying Grants losses were far greater in Virginia, general Thomas talked him out of it. However General Schofeild found a way to outflank the enemy allowing the union to force the retreat of the confederates and rescuing Sherman from more direct assault with heavy losses.
John Bell Hood Takes Command
&#8220Hes is bold. I am doubtful to other qualities necessary&#8221
-Robert E Lee on John Bell Hood
The most important event that happened to influence the campaign and fight for Atlanta, was when Jefferson Davis replaced Johnston with Hood. Davis was upset with Johnston for giving ground to easy and replaced him with the aggressive Hood. This would prove a fatal error by Davis as Sherman said he could not have taken Atlanta by direct assault.
Sherman Rescued Once More
&#8220Sherman failed to show concern for his exposed flank. Sherman overruled and sent dodge to destroy rail. McPherson went to Sherman talked him out of it.&#8221
- Ronald H Bailey Battles for Atlanta Sherman Moves East
Hood went to work right away, he caught Sherman off guard. Hood spotted a mistake in Shermans lines as Sherman left a flank vulnerable to attack and unguarded. Hood than got 2 corps around and behind McPherson for the attack without Sherman knowledge. McPherson had complained about the flank and Sherman was warned Hood was very aggressive and would attack Sherman. Sherman was overconfident and instead overruled McPherson and send General Dodge not to protect McPherson flank, but to tear up rail line. McPherson than complained personally to Sherman and Sherman relented. Dodge was allowed to cover the flank just in time to respond to Hoods attack. This saved McPherson command and in turn, Sherman from a sound defeat of McPherson command. Hood had a 2 corps flanking against McPherson by surprise. Had Sherman had his way, Instead Hood met with small, but costly success in the battle and McPherson corps was saved.
&#8220that fortunate peace of work was mcpherson&#8221
-Ronald H Bailey Battles for Atlanta Sherman Moves East
Shermans Calvary Raid
Sherman sent Mccook and Stoneman behind enemy lines on a Calvary raid in an attempt to destroy rail and release union soldiers held captive at Andersonville. Instead Mccook was routed and only a few hundred made it back to union lines while Stoneman was surrounded and surrendered. Instead of freeing prisoners the attempt added thousands.
&#8220The entire raid had been a costly and embarrassing failure. All in all, Sherman lost 4,200 troopers during this escapade, almost half of his entire Calvary force&#8221
-John Cannan The Atlanta campaign
The Capture of Atlanta
Hood than went on to destroy 1/3 of his army in failed, unorganized, unsupported assaults on fortified union lines when the defender outnumbered him, and had hundreds of wagons captured by cavalry. Later Sherman was &#8220obsession with tearing up rails missed opportunity to destroy Hardee at Jonesboro .&#8221 Shermans slow action and focus on rail, allowed Hardee to escape and the confederate army along with it. But with the capture of the rail line, Hood retreated out of Atlanta.
Atlanta Campaign Conclusions
&#8220Sherman had failed in his primary objective of destroying the confederate army&#8221
-Ronald H Bailey Battles for Atlanta Sherman Moves East
Sherman captured Atlanta, but did not achieve his main objective of destroying the confederate army. Sherman performed well during the Atlanta campaign against sub par generals and sub par armies. He had vast advantages in manpower and equipment and performed multiple great flanking maneuvers. However he was bested at least once by both Hood and Johnston and was saved by his subordinates a few times. It was a war of maneuvering and Shermans manpower advantage gave him a distinct advantage to be able to outmaneuver his enemy. During the siege Sherman said &#8220we are more besieged than them. the enemy holds us by an inferior force.&#8221 In reality it was not such an amazing feat, but the consequences of the capture of Atlanta, given the time and circumstance of the war. Made it a impact-full victory and perhaps overrated.
Sherman's March to the sea
&#8220I can make Georgia howl!&#8221
-William T Sherman
Grant and Lincoln wanted Sherman to pursue and destroy Hood his main objective of the Atlanta campaign. Instead Sherman wanted to use his army as a large raiding party through the deep south. What Sherman really did was wage war on private property and civilians. The confederacy could offer no resistance to Sherman by late 64 and I don't see this as great military genius needed to command a raiding party with no opposition. He did a great job collecting and living off the land,[using census data to help] but as to view this from a great military commander perspective does not seem to work. In fact maybe the one time he could have won a military victory when he had Hardee's 10,000 men garrison of Savannah vastly outnumbered. Yet Sherman decided to lay siege and allowed Hardee's entire force to escape. Than later in North Carolina a vastly outnumbered confederate army under Joe Johnston attacked Sherman's with a insignificant result at Bentonville. Johnston would surrender soon after.
Sherman failed to complete what would have been a great military accomplishment by destroying Hood. This would have done more to end the war that stealing private citizens food and property. Yes this prevented supply from helping Lee, but Lee was near spent anyways and would surrender to Grant had Sherman marched to the sea or not. With Lee gone the rest of the south follows.
Why is Sherman Overrated?
It is my opinion that General Sherman is the most overrated general of the war. I believe in many ways during the early years it was only his friendship with Grant that held him above water and gave him chance after chance. He seemed to have failed over and over and only when the confederacy was near spent 64-65, did Sherman begin to have success.
After the war Sherman and his friend Grant both wrote popular memories and held each other up. These kind of works had influence on the public opinion of the men. Grant being elected president gave even more sway to Sherman and Grant. The fact that Sherman went on to fight the Indians and helped the expansion of America out west, I think also makes him one of the &#8220good guys&#8221 and inflates his reputation. But I believe most of all the capture of Atlanta is the cause of Sherman being overrated. Viewed simply from a military point of view it was his best performance and a good campaign. But the fact it literally ensured Lincoln would be reelected and the war won for the north tends to inflate the accomplishment militarily. He shined at just the right time. Helping the republican party that would be in power the next 70 years and would influence and control education. Sure does not do anything that would diminish his reputation by seceding generations taught in schools.
-Great Campaigns The Shiloh Campaign David G Martin Combined Books PA 1996
-Great Campaigns the Atlanta campaign John Cannan Combined Books PA 1991
- John J Hennessy The first battle of Manassas Stackpole Books 2015
-Receding Tide Vicksburg and Gettysburg the Campaigns That changed the civil war Edwin C Bearess and J Parker Hills National Geographic D.C 2010
-Thomas J Rowland George B Mcclellan and Civil war History in the Shadow of grant and Sherman Kent State University Press 1998
-Six Armies in Tennessee the Chickamagua and Chattanooga Campaigns Steven E Woodworth University of Nebraska press 1998
-Battles for Atlanta Sherman Moves East Ronald H Bailey Time-Life Books, Alexandria, Virginia 1985
-Personal Memoirs of U.S Grant Da Capo Press 2001 -The Campaigns of General Nathan Bedford Forrest and of Forrest's Cavalry Da Capo Press 1996 --The Confederate war Gary Gallagher Harvard University press 1999 -A History of the south the Confederate States of America E Merton Coulter Louisiana State Press 1950
-James V Murfin Battlefields of the Civil war
-America's Civil war Magazine America's Civil War Magazine | HistoryNet
-Civil war Trust Civil War Trust: Saving America's Civil War Battlefields
General Sherman Captures Atlanta - HISTORY
General William T. Sherman on War
Before his army entered the city of Atlanta in September, 1864, General Sherman sent a letter to the mayor directing that the city be evacuated, as it would not suitable for civilians once his troops took over. The Mayor and City Council responded with a request that he rescind his order on the grounds that many people--older citizens, young women who were pregnant or had small children, the infirm, etc. Sherman's response, below, is seen as the harbinger of modern "total" war, in which the entire nation becomes involved in the conflict. (Witness the bombings of cities during World War II.) From Atlanta Sherman set out a few weeks later to "make the South howl," which he did on his famous march to the sea. Everything Sherman did had the approval of his superiors, General U.S. Grant and President Lincoln. Military historians generally believe that Sherman's tactics broke the back of the South and hastened the end of the conflict, which came some seven months after Sherman entered Atlanta.
HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, IN THE FIELD, ATLANTA, GEORGIA September 12, 1864
JAMES M. CALHOUN, Mayor, E. E. PAWSON and S. C. WELLS, representing City Council of Atlanta.
GENTLEMEN: I have your letter of the 11th, in the nature of a petition to revoke my orders removing all the inhabitants from Atlanta. I have read it carefully, and give full credit to your statements of the distress that will be occasioned, and yet shall not revoke my orders, because they were not designed to meet the humanities of the case, but to prepare for the future struggles in which millions of good people outside of Atlanta have a deep interest. We must have peace , not only at Atlanta, but in all America. To secure this, we must stop the war that now desolates our once happy and favored country. To stop war, we must defeat the rebel armies which are arrayed against the laws and Constitution that all must respect and obey. To defeat those armies, we must prepare the way to reach them in their recesses, provided with the arms and instruments which enable us to accomplish our purpose.
Now, I know the vindictive nature of our enemy, that we may have many years of military operations from this quarter and, therefore, deem it wise and prudent to prepare in time. The use of Atlanta for warlike purposes is inconsistent with its character as a home for families. There will be no manufactures, commerce, or agriculture here, for the maintenance of families, and sooner or later want will compel the inhabitants to go. Why not go now, when all the arrangements are completed for the transfer, instead of waiting till the plunging shot of contending armies will renew the scenes of the past month? Of course, I do not apprehend any such thing at this moment, but you do not suppose this army will be here until the war is over. I cannot discuss this subject with you fairly, because I cannot impart to you what we propose to do, but I assert that our military plans make it necessary for the inhabitants to go away, and I can only renew my offer of services to make their exodus in any direction as easy and comfortable as possible.
You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices to-day than any of you to secure peace. But you cannot have peace and a division of our country. If the United States submits to a division now, it will not stop, but will go on until we reap the fate of Mexico, which is eternal war. The United States does and must assert its authority, wherever it once had power for, if it relaxes one bit to pressure, it is gone, and I believe that such is the national feeling. This feeling assumes various shapes, but always comes back to that of Union. Once admit the Union, once more acknowledge the authority of the national Government, and, instead of devoting your houses and streets and roads to the dread uses of war, I and this army become at once your protectors and supporters, shielding you from danger, let it come from what quarter it may. I know that a few individuals cannot resist a torrent of error and passion, such as swept the South into rebellion, but you can point out, so that we may know those who desire a government, and those who insist on war and its desolation.
You might as well appeal against the thunder-storm as against these terrible hardships of war. They are inevitable, and the only way the people of Atlanta can hope once more to live in peace and quiet at home, is to stop the war, which can only be done by admitting that it began in error and is perpetuated in pride.
We don't want your negroes, or your horses, or your houses, or your lands, or any thing you have, but we do want and will have a just obedience to the laws of the United States. That we will have, and, if it involves the destruction of your improvements, we cannot help it.
You have heretofore read public sentiment in your newspapers, that live by falsehood and excitement and the quicker you seek for truth in other quarters, the better. I repeat then that, by the original compact of Government, the United States had certain rights in Georgia, which have never been relinquished and never will be that the South began war by seizing forts, arsenals, mints, customhouses, etc., etc., long before Mr. Lincoln was installed, and before the South had one jot or tittle of provocation. I myself have seen in Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, hundreds and thousands of women and children fleeing from your armies and desperadoes, hungry and with bleeding feet. In Memphis, Vicksburg, and Mississippi, we fed thousands upon thousands of the families of rebel soldiers left on our hands, and whom we could not see starve.
Now that war comes home to you, you feel very different. You deprecate its horrors, but did not feel them when you sent car-loads of soldiers and ammunition, and moulded shells and shot, to carry war into Kentucky and Tennessee, to desolate the homes of hundreds and thousands of good people who only asked to live in peace at their old homes, and under the Government of their inheritance. But these comparisons are idle. I want peace, and believe it can only be reached through union and war, and I will ever conduct war with a view to perfect and early success.
But, my dear sirs, when peace does come, you may call on me for any thing. Then will I share with you the last cracker, and watch with you to shield your homes and families against danger from every quarter.
Now you must go, and take with you the old and feeble, feed and nurse them, and build for them, in more quiet places, proper habitations to shield them against the weather until the mad passions of men cool down, and allow the Union and peace once more to settle over your old homes at Atlanta.
General Sherman Captures Atlanta - HISTORY
On July 22, 1864 Atlanta was captured by Union troops after a series of battles. Atlanta was the spiritual center of the Confederacy and its' capture was a major blow to the South.
After the victory at Missionary Hill, Sherman succeeded Grant as commander of the Armies of the West. Grant went on to become a Lieutenant General, as the General-in-Chief.
Sherman's next goal for the army of West was not an attack on any western city, but rather, an attack on the heart of the South– The city of Atlanta. Atlanta was 100 miles away from Chattanooga, as the crow flies. Though, between Sherman’s army and the city of Atlanta lay a series of mountains that provided many opportunities for defense. Confederate General Johnson, who replaced General Bragg, planned to stop Sherman by contesting every hilltop. General Sherman, however, had other plans.
Johnson's first line of defense was the Rocky Face Ridge at Buzzards Roost. However, Sherman had sent his forces on a flanking movement to Resaca. This forced Johnson to pull back there, which he did, by May 12th. At Resaca Johnson held up Sherman who could not find any weakness in the defenses there. Instead, Sherman, once again, engaged in a wide flanking movement. This forced Johnson to pull back once more. This time to Cassville. There, Johnson planned to turn and fight. Sherman's forces were dispersed, but the Confederates believed they had been outflanked again. Thus, they fell back, once again. This time they withdrew to positions overlooking the railroad at Altoona Pass. Yet again, Sherman outflanked Johnson, forcing him to fall back to New Hope Church. There, the two armies skirmished for a few days, as they slowly moved northward back to the rail line. In the course of the skirmishing, Confederate General Polk was killed by a Union shell. Union troops stopped before reaching entrenched Confederate positions along the Kennesaw mountain. On June 27th, in frustration, Sherman launched a number of fruitless attacks on Confederate lines. Here, for the first time Sherman's forces suffered higher losses than the Confederates.
Sherman then reverted to flanking movements, this time sending McPherson around to the Confederate rear. Johnson spotted the movement and fell back to Smyrna, about five miles from the Chattahochee. Sherman had considered a frontal assault, but finally thought better of it. Sherman decided on another flanking movement instead. This time he forced the Confederate troops back to the Chattahochee River. When Sherman reached it, he was able to see his goal. The city of Atlanta was eight miles in the distance. After another flanking movement, Sherman forced Johnson to make one last retreat– this time to Peachtree Creek, a mere five miles from Atlanta.
By this time the Confederate government had lost faith in Johnson's ability to defend Atlanta. On the 16th he was relieved of command and replaced by Hood one of his subordinates.
Hood was more aggressive than Johnson. On July 21 and 22nd, Confederates launched two attacks against Union forces, under the command of General Hood. Neither attack succeeded. On the 22nd, during the course of the attack, Union General McPherson was killed. Sherman considered McPherson the finest general in the Union army– after Grant and himself. Then, Sherman went ahead and began a siege of Atlanta. He began long range artillery fire as inhabitants of the city began to flee.
Sherman was not content to maintain a long term siege of the city. He was determined to cut the last remaining rail link between the city and the rest of the South. Sherman's army began one final flanking movement to the South, cutting the rail line at Jonesboro. Hood’s forces responded by attacking the Union forces. Hood’s attempt failed. As a result, Hood had no choice but to retreat from Atlanta, which he promptly did. On September 2nd, Sherman's army entered Atlanta. In less than four month, and at the cost of 31,000 casualties, the heart of the South had been taken.
Myth: General William Sherman’s “March to the Sea” destroyed supplies that would have gone to the prisoners at Andersonville, and bears some responsibility for the suffering endured there. He could have liberated Andersonville.
A post-war engraving of Sherman's March to the Sea
Library of Congress/Alexander Ritchie
Many Georgians grow up hearing about the devastation wrought by General William T. Sherman's army as it marched from Atlanta to Savannah. Visitors to Andersonville frequently make the connection between Sherman's destruction and the lack of supplies at Andersonville. It's not uncommon to hear, "What were they supposed to feed the prisoners with after Sherman destroyed all the food?" He's often criticized for not swinging his army further south and liberating Andersonville and its 30,000 captives.
General William T. Sherman remains one of the most controversial and divisive figures of the Civil War
The problem with this narrative is that it does not fit the timeline of Andersonville's operation. General Sherman captured Atlanta on September 2, 1864. Word quickly reached Andersonville and mass evacuations began immediately. In just the one week of September 7-13 nearly 17,000 prisoners were transferred to other prisons in Georgia and the Carolinas. In mid-September, Sherman and Confederate General Hood negotiated a "special exchange" for those captured in the Atlanta campaign and around 2,000 prisoners were sent to Atlanta for exchange. By the end of the month less than 9,000 prisoners remained at Andersonville. When Sherman began his March to the Sea on November 15, 1864, there were less than 200 prisoners in the stockade and less than 2,000 in the hospital. That very day an additional 500 were transferred to Savannah lowering the prison's population even further. The death count on November 15, 1864 stood at around 12,100.
Whether or not Sherman should have moved towards Andersonville and the 1,500 prisoners there is subject to speculation and debate. However, the implication that he intentionally left 30,000 men to rot is simply inaccurate. Sherman was aware of the evacuations taking place and he knew that the prison would be virtually empty by the time he was prepared to move. More importantly, Sherman did not cut off the prisoners' food supplies. Virtually all of the deaths at Andersonville occurred before Sherman destroyed anything in central Georgia.
FROM ATLANTA. The Twentieth Corps-Movements to Sept. 2-Capture of Atlanta. General Sherman's Congratulatory Order-- Measures for the Removal of Non-combatants-Correspondence between Sherman and Hood.
The Twentieth Corps, from whose camp this letter is dated, has been ruled out of the programme of the recent movement to the right and south of Atlanta. GEN. SHERMAN ordered its new commander, GEN. SLOCUM, to so occupy the river bank as to guard most effectually against the contingency of an attempt on the part of the enemy to destroy the railroad bridge and communications north of the Chattahoochee. It pursuance of these instructions, the corps intrenched itself in line of battle on the south-east bank, covering a distance of three miles on each side of the crossing. The north bank is patrolled by cavalry and infantry to a distance of twelve [. ] fifteen miles further up and down the river.
There is a perfect dearth of news, as communication with the main army has been very uncertain, and irregularly maintained. We learn, however, that cavalry engagements have occurred near Sandtown on the 27th and 28th of August and, to judge from the fact that wounded are arriving in large numbers, it is surmised that heavy engagements have taken place.
The evacuation of the line before Atlanta was made on the night of the 25th ult. with great caution, and was very creditably executed by the general intrusted with the management. The enemy were prompt to follow our line as it receded to the present position. At 2 P.M., on the 26th, their cavalry appeared in front of GEARY's division, and after skirmishing for the afternoon, disappeared but reappeared in Gens. WILLIAMS' and WARDS' fronts the next morning, evidently maneuvering to ascertain the precise location of the lines.
Now that this fighting command, which under Gen. HOOKER participated in all the battles of SHERMAN's advance, sharing the glory of other corps, which have actively participated in the achievments of the campaign, is for the present debarred from moving and operating with the main army. Officers and men evince a decided disposition to turn their backs on the scene altogether, and by means of furloughs retire to their home for a short season of rest and recuperation of the inner and outer man, both having been sadly shattered by the unusual severities and the very exhausting demands of the campaign. But they err by under-estimating the value of the corps' share in present operations. A very important part is assigned them, though the fact is hardly appreciated. To stand alone and unassisted upon the frontier of the whole territory conquered during the past three months, while the main army detaches itself to make new conquests -- to be exposed to the possible attack of the whole of HOOD's army -- and to be supposed equal to the emergency by GEN. SHERMAN who, thus entrusts GEN. SLOCUM with the care of all that he, has ladoured so ardously to win -- this, is of itself when rightly considered, a compliment and a glorp far above any that can belong to individual command now in advance.
The fact of being on railroad or river duty is always distasteful to those who thirst for glory, or would "seek the bubble reputation eɾn at the cannon's mouth." Some men are loudly expressing their regret that it has not been their fortune to receive a "scratch" sufficient to give a furlough -- just enough to put an arm in a sling and permit the owner to revisit the scenes of civil life. To accomplish this there have been instances, during the history of the campaign, when officers and men have, needlessly exposed themselves to rebel bullets. Instances have not been wanting where officers, in their endeavors to obtain honorable relief from arduous duties of the campaign by the questionable means referred to, have arrived at perfect exemption from all the trials and vexations of a soul burdened with a corporate attachment. With such examples before them, it is wonderful that, for he sake of temporary ease, men will continue to brave death. With the facts staring us in the face, that hundreds maim themselves or seek wounds to get temporarily relieved from duty, and that thousands feign ills or frame excuses to secure sick furloughs, would it not be wise to inaugurate a system by means of which the soldiers can have leaves of absence at regular and well-known intervals?
There can be no doubt that a judicious and uniform distribution of furloughs would prevent many from forcing the authorities to send them to the rear by exaggerated or well-feigned disability.
Since indicting the foregoing, official information has arrived that ATLANTA IS OURS. A reconnoitering force from GEN. SLOCUM's command entered it about 2 A.M., to-day, overcoming its feeble garrison after a slight resistance, and a few discharges from the heavy guns left upon the fortifications by the main army of the enemy, which was looking after GEN. SHERMAN, who had penetrated the country in rear of the city and severed its last communication with the interior of the Confederacy. The glad news was announced an hour age by a courier, whose steed fell dead from exhaustion, as its rider delivered to GEN. SLOCUM his important dispatches.
Immediately upon receipt of the news Gen. SLOCUM and staff left for the city, occompanied by a brigade each from GEARY's, WILLIAMS' and WARD's divisions. All are eager to learn who shall occupy the place but I believe it has been settled that Gen. GEARY shall for the present command the post and bring to bear his abilities to the work of reducing to order the confused state of affairs. Many citizens are still in town.
Special Correspondence of the Cincinnati Gazette.
As will be seen by the different orders and instruments which this letter contains. Atlanta will be deserted by every man, woman and child, who have, previous to the entrance of our army, resided here and no one will remain within the limits of the city except persons who have a direct connection with the United States Army.
But, before referring further to the orders mentioned, I give the most pleasing, as well as the most welcome, one which is generally termed
HEADQ'RS MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI, IN THE FIELD, ATLANTA, GA., Sept. 8, 1864.
Special Field Orders, No. 68. --
The officers and soldiers of the armies of the Cumberland, Ohio and Tennessee, have already received the thanks of the Nation, through its President and Commander-in-Chief and it now remains only for him who has been with you from the beginning, and who intends to stay all the time to thank the officers and men for their intelligence, fidelity and courage displayed in the campaign of Atlanta.
On the first of May our armies were lying in garrison, seemingly quiet from Knoxville, and our enemy lay behind his rocky-faced barrier at Dalton proud, defiant and exulting. He had had time since Christmas to recover from his discomfiture on the Mission Ridge, with his ranks filled, and a new Commander-in-Chief, second to none of the Confederacy in reputation for skill, sagacity and extreme popularity. All at once our armies assumed life and action and appeared before Dalton threatening Rocky Face we threw ourselves upon Resaca, and the rebel army only escaped by the rapidity of its retreat, aided by the numerous roads with which he was familiar, and which were strange to us. Again he took post in Allatoona, but we gave him no test, and by a circuit toward Dallas and subsequent movement to Ackworth, we gained the Allatoona Pass. Then followed the eventful battles about Kenesaw, and the escape of the enemy across Chattahooche river.
The crossing of the Chattahoochee and breaking of the Augusta road was most handsomely executed by us, and will be studied as an example in the art of war. At this Stage of our game, our enemies became dissatisfied with their old and skillful commander, and selected one more bold and rash. New tactics were adopted. Hood first boldly and rapidly, on the 20th of July, fell on our right at Peachtree Creek, and lost. Again, on the 22[. ] he stuck our extreme left, and was severely punished and finally again, on the 28th he repeate[. ] the attempt on our right, and that time must have been satisfied, for since that date he has remained on the defensive. We slowly and gradually drew our lines from Atlanta feeling for the railroads which supplied the Rebel army and made Atlanta a place of importance. We must concede to our enemy that he met these efforts patiently and skillfully, but at last he made the mistake we had waited for so long and sent his cavalry to our rear, far beyond the reach of recall. Instantly our cavalry was on his only remaining road, and we followed quickly with our principal army, and Atlanta fell into our possession as the fruit of well concerted measures, backe[. ] by a brave and confident army. This completed the grand task which had been assigned us by our Government, and your General again repeats his personal and official thanks to all the officers and men composing this army, for the indomitable courage and perseverance which alone could give success.
We have beaten our enemy on every ground he has chosen, and have wrested from him his own Gate City, where were located his foundries, arsenals, and workshops, deemed secure on account of their distance from our base, and the seemingly impregnable obstacles supervening. Nothing is impossible to an army like this, determined to vindicate a Government which has rights wherever our flag has once floated, and is resolved to maintain them at any and all costs.
In our campaign many, yea[. ] very many of our noble and gallant comrades have preceded us to our common destination, the grave but they have left the memory of deeds, on which a nation can build a proud history. McPherson, Harker, McCook, and others dear to us all, are now the [. ]ing links in our minds that should attach more closely together the living, who have to complete the task which still lays before us in the di[. ] future. I ask all to continue as they have so well begun, the cultivation of the soldierly virtues that have ennobled our own and other countries. Courage, patience, obedience to the laws and constituted authorities of our Government fidelity to our trusts and good feeling among each other each trying to excel the other in the presence of those high qualities, and it will then require no prophet to foretell that our country will in time emerge from this war, purified by the fires of war, and worthy its great founder, Washington.
THE DISPATCH FROM GEN. GRANT.
CITY POINT, VA., Sept 4, 1864 -- 9 P.M.
I have just received your dispatch announcing the capture of Atlanta. In honor of your great victory, I have just ordered a salute to be fired with sho[. ]ed guns from every battery bearing upon the enemy. -- The salute will be fired within an hour, amidst great rejoicing.
H. All the corps, regiments and batteries composing the army, may, [. ]out further orders, inscribe Atlanta on their co[. ]ers. By order of
The following letter will explain itself:
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE TENNESSEE,
Major Gen. Sherman, Com[. ]ding U.S. Forces in Ga:
GENERAL -- YOUR letter of yesterday's date, borne by JAMES W. BALF and JAMES B. CHEW, citizens of Atlanta, is received. You say threrein, -- "I deem it to be to the interest of the United States, that the citizens now residing at Atlanta should remove, etc." I do not consider that I have any alternative in the matter. I, therefore, accept your imposition to declare a truce of ten days, or such time as may be necessary to accomplish the purpose mentioned, and shall render all the assistance in my power to expedite the transportation of citizens in this direction. I suggest that a staff officer be appointed by you to superintend the removal to the city of Rough and Ready, while I appoint a like officer to control their removal further south that a guard of one hundred men be sent by either party, as you propose to maintain order at that place and that the removal begin on Monday next.
And now, sir, permit me to say that the unprecedented measure you propose, transcends in studied and ingenious cruelty all acts ever before brought to my attention in the dark history of war.
In the name of God and humanity, I protest, believing that you will find that you are expelling from their homes and firesides the wives and children of a brave people.
I am, General, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Official: -- MCA. HUMMETT, Lieutenant, &c.
Accompanying the above letter was one addressed to Col. Calhoun, Mayor of Atlanta, through whose courtesy I am permitted to take a copy:
LETTER FROM HOOD TO THE MAYOR.
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE TENNESSEE.
Hon. James M. Calhoun, Mayor:
SIR: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter touching the removal of the citizens of Atlanta, as ordered by General Sherman. Please find inclosed my reply to General Sherman's letter. I shall do all in my power to mitigate the terrible hardship and misery that must be brought upon your people by this extraordinary order of the Federal Commander. Transportation will be sent to Rough and Ready to carry the people and their effects further South.
You have my deepest sympathy in this unlooked for and unprecedented affliction.
I am, sir, very respectfully,
HEADQUARTERS MILITARY DIV., MISS.,
SPECIAL FIELD ORDER NO. 70.
1. Pursuant to an agreement between Gen. J.B. HOOD, commanding the Confederate forces in Georgia, and Major-Gen. W.T. SHERMAN, commanding this army, a truce is hereby declared to exist from daylight of Monday. Sept. 12, until daylight of Thursday. Sept. 22 -- ten (10) full days, at a point on the Macon railroad, known as Rough and Ready, and the country roundabout for a circle of two (2) miles radius, together with the road leading to and from, in the direction of Atlanta and Lovejoy Station, respectively, for the purpose of affording the people of Atlanta a safe means of removal to points South.
2. The Chief Quartermaster at Atlanta, Col. EASTON, will afford all the citizens of Atlanta who elect to go South all the facilities he can spare to remove them comfortably and safely, with their effects, to Rough and Ready station, using cars and ambulances for that purpose, and commanders of regiments and brigades may use their regimental and staff teams to carry out the object of this order -- the whole to cease after Wednesday, 21st inst.
3. Major Gen. Thomas will cause a guard to be established on the road cut beyond the camp ground, with orders to allow all wagons and vehicles to pass that are used manifestly for this purpose and Major-Gen. Howard will send a guard of one hundred men, with a field officer in command, to take post at Rough and Ready during the truce, with orders in concert with a guard from the Confederate army of like size, to maintain the most perfect order in that vicinity during the transfer of these families. A white flag will be displayed during the truce, and a guard will cause all wagons to leave at 4 P.M. of Wednesday, the 21st inst., and the guard to withdraw at dark, -- the truce to terminate the next morning.
This gallant officer died this morning. He was commanding the 2d Brigade, 3d Division, 20th Army Corps. but was originally connected with the 137th New York infantry. His death was sudden and unexpected. His illness was of but two [. ] three days' duration.
Gen. Wood of the 4th Corps is slowly recovering from the effects of the wound received in his ankle [. ] the 2d. The wound is quite painful, but not considered dangerous. BUTLER.
The story of the Civil War retold at Stone Mountain
Few American cities have a richer historical heritage than Atlanta. Within a few miles in each direction are found remnants of battles that contributed to the almost total destruction of the city during the Civil War. It was a cold, wet, and windy day when we came to Stone Mountain Park, a few miles to the east of Atlanta. Perhaps this is the best kind of weather in which to look back on the Civil War and the traditions of Georgia. Balmy sunshine might romanticize the sacrifices of both Armies and make it seem more like Disneyland, with all the artifices that implies. But Stone Mountain, a massive treeless dome of granite standing 825 feet above the surrounding plain, can tell no story of greater courage than that of the battle that was bitterly fought here.
Sculptured onto the mountain's sheer northern face are three colossal equestrian figures -- Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Gen. Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson, and Gen. Robert E. Lee. Although the figure of Lee is as tall as a nine-story building and the entire sculpture rests in a niche the size of a city block, the figures seem small in comparison with the size of the mountain. This impressive sculpture took 57 years to complete.
In a soft rain the gray mountain testifies to the anguish of a long, bloody war that Georgians will never forget. Two impressive statues stand on either side of the trail in front of the mountain. On one side, a mother with a baby on her shoulder holds out a beseeching hand. Below her is the legend: ``The Country Comes Before Me.'' On the other side, the soldier stands with a raised broken sword, with the legend: ``Men who saw night coming down on them could somehow act as if they stood at the edge of dawn.''
Famed for its attractions, and easily accessible by car or bus from downtown Atlanta, Stone Mountain Park is a pleasant place for a family outing. Its offerings include nature trails, camping, a grist mill, and industries also a riverboat marina, fishing, a carillon and amphitheater, a golf course and skylift, a train ride,and an antique auto museum.
But the most fascinating magnets are the ``War in Georgia'' exhibit at Confederate Hall and the long train which has been converted to a museum illustrating the state's role in Colonial and Civil War periods. The ``War in Georgia'' is a three-dimensional relief map that uses narration, sound, and lighting effects to take the viewer through decisive Civil War battles, as General Sherman captured Atlanta.
Sherman had moved against Joe Johnston's Confererate Army the same day Ulysses Grant crossed the Rapidan. From the distant North, General Sherman's campaign seemed to have little hope of victory. Wise old General Johnston, sparring, sidestepping, shifting back, understood a need to keep Sherman from forcing a showdown. But to President Jefferson Davis, Johnston seemed too reluctant to make a commitment, and Johnston was replaced by ``slugging'' John B. Hood. With lights, music, and narration, the story of the Battle of Atlanta is dramatized here.
On May 4, 1864, as Grant pressed into the wilderness, Sherman's Army began marching south from Chattanooga toward Atlanta, one of the South's most important industrial cities. Sherman's force consisted of three armies -- General Thomas's 61,000, General McPherson's 24,000, and General Schofield's 14,000. Twenty-five miles southeast of Chattanooga, holding a line across the main railroad near Dalton, Ga., lay Gen. Joe Johnston's Army of 50,000 Southerners. Sherman and Johnston were equally matched, brilliant generals Johnston realized he couldn't stop Sherman immediately, but he could delay him.
Sherman's strategy -- cutting the main railroad lines -- eventually forced General Hood to abandon Atlanta. Sherman marched in and burned the city. Native Georgians will never forget Sherman's ``March to the Sea.'' The Union soldiers, living off the populace, destroyed the food they didn't eat and any supplies the Confederates might find useful. Descendants still tell stories of the Yankees tearing up featherbeds with their bayonets.
Although General Sherman forbade molesting Southern women, children, or unarmed men, he still seemed cruel. He had to destroy the Southern ability to continue the war. The burning of Atlanta was the beginning of the end of the Civil War.
Well worth visiting, the museum in a renovated railroad train (not the one that tours the park) just behind Confederate Hall depicts Colonial and Revolutionary times as well as a history of Stone Mountain. The exhibits offer an overview of various immigrants who contributed to the creativity of early Georgia. Overlooked treasure
For another view of what Georgians call ``the War between the States,'' you need not leave Atlanta to see the remarkable Cyclorama of the Battle of Atlanta. It is found in Grant Park (not named for the Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, of course, but for a generous citizen who gave the park to the city). The cyclorama, displayed in a round building, may be the largest painting in the world, about 50 feet high and 400 feet in circumference.
The painting was primarily done by Polish and German artists who painted similar canvases to glorify the German victories in the Franco-Prussian war. One of the artists, Theodore Davis, on the staff of Harper's Weekly, had been on the battlefields near Chattanooga as well as at Sherman's headquarters on the torrid afternoon of the July 22 battle. He recorded the action, places, and color of the Georgia campaigns. It is to his intimate knowledge and sketches made on location of the various regiments of cavalry and the piled up battle smoke -- the sky streaked with crimson, pale green, and yellow in the wild summer sunset -- that the cyclorama owes its accuracy.
On the site of the battlefield, the immigrant painters built a 40-foot-high wood tower from which they studied the terrain. They made sketches of characteristic details of the battle area, winding red dirt roads, eroded gullies, the organ-pipe formation of the pine woods, and the rolling fields. Confederate veterans offered reminiscences and advice. The veterans who saw the finished painting were overwhelmed by the spectacle. Emotions were rekindled by the pictured violence of the two Armies, the serried ranks in battle smoke, the galloping horsemen.
The painting was exhibited in 1891 in a wood structure, and in 1921 it was brought to Grant Park to the present imposing marble building.
In 1936, by means of a Works Projects Administration grant, the painting was made three-dimensional by the addition of blasted tree stumps and bushes that look battle-torn, broken rails and crossties, lifelike plaster figures of Confederate and Federal soldiers, and other fragments of war which form the battlefield at the base of the canvas. In viewing the painting, one has difficulty determining where the real ends and the illusion begins. The seating area revolves slowly while special light, music, and sound effects make this an unforgettable experience.
Civil War buffs may not want to overlook the town of Roswell, north of Atlanta, where monied people summered to escape the oppressive coastal climate. Fine examples of classical Southern architecture have been restored and are open to the public.
Sunday, January 31, 2010
General Sherman's March to the Sea
"Sherman's March to the Sea" is the name given by historians to describe the Savannah Campaign conducted across Georgia during November-December 1864 by Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman of the Union Army during the American Civil War.
The campaign began with Sherman's troops leaving the captured city of Atlanta, Georgia on November 15 and ended with the capture of the port of Savannah on December 21. The military campaign had inflicted significant damage, particularly to industry and infrastructure and civilian property, keeping in step with Gen. Sherman's doctrine of total war. One military historian wrote that Sherman "defied military principles by operating deep within enemy territory and without lines of supply or communication. He destroyed much of the South's potential and psychology to wage war."
Gen. Sherman and U.S. Army commander, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant believed that the Civil War would end only if the Confederacy's strategic, economic and psychological capacity for warfare were decisively broken. Sherman therefore applied the principles of scorched earth.
He ordered his troops to burn crops, kill livestock, consume supplies, and destroy civilian infrastructure along their path. This policy is often considered a component strategy of total war.
For thirty-six days that army moved through Georgia, with very little opposition, pillaging the countryside. It was a sort of military promenade, requiring very little military skill in the performance, and as little personal prowess, as well trained union troops were deployed against defenseless citizens. It was grand in conception, and easily executed.
Gen. Sherman's forces were composed of four army corps, the right wing commanded by Gen. O. O. Howard, and the left wing by Gen. H. W. Slocum. Howard's right was composed of the corps of Generals Osterhaus and Blair, and the left of the corps of Gen. J. C. Davis and A. S. Williams. General Kilpatrick commanded the cavalry, consisting of one division.
Many deeds that tested the prowess and daring of the soldiers on both sides on the march. Kilpatrick's first dash across the Flint River and against General Joseph Wheeler's cavalry, and then towards Macon, burning a train of cars and tearing up the railway, gave the Confederates a suspicion of Sherman's intentions. There was widespread consternation in Georgia and South Carolina, for the invader's destination was uncertain.
Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard was sent from the Appomattox to the Savannah to confront the Yankee army. He sent before him a manifesto in which he said, "Destroy all the roads in Sherman's front, flank, and rear," and, "be trustful in Providence." Benjamin H. Hill, of Georgia., in the Confederate Congress at Richmond wrote to the people of his State: " Every citizen with his gun and every negro with his spade and axe can do the work of a soldier. You can destroy the enemy by retarding his march. Be firm!" The representatives of Georgia in the Confederate Congress called upon their people to fly to arms.
Sherman's entire force numbered 60,000 infantry and artillery and 5,500 cavalry. On Nov. 11 Sherman cut the telegraph wires that connected Atlanta with Washington, and his army became an isolated column in the heart of an enemy's country. It began its march for the sea on the morning of the 14th, when the entire city of Atlanta—excepting its courthouse, churches, and dwellings—was committed to the flames.
On December 9th the Federal army reached the neighborhood of Savannah. The city was defended by confederate General Hardee with 10,000 men, and was well protected by forts and by the rice swamps which had been flooded. Though cannonading was kept up for a number of days between attackers and defenders, the city was not hurt. After cooperation had been established between Sherman and the Federal gunboats on the coast and in the mouths of the rivers, Hardee saw that it would be impossible to hold Savannah, and in order to save his army he withdrew across the Savannah River into South Carolina, on December 21st.
On the following day Sherman entered Savannah and sent this telegram to President Lincoln: "I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton."
No other campaign in the entire war has contributed more to keeping alive sectional feeling than Sherman's march through Georgia and South Carolina. The march began in November, after the crops had been gathered. The "bummers" found the barns bursting with grain, fodder, and peas, the outhouses full of cotton, the yards crowded with hogs, chickens, and turkeys.
The soldiers in the Southern armies were starving, not because there was no food, but because the rail roads had been destroyed and it was impossible to send supplies to the front. Sherman was not content simply to use what food and supplies he needed, but boasted that he would "smash things to the sea" and make Georgia howl. His men entered dwellings, taking everything of value that could be moved, such as silver plate and jewelry and killed and left dead in the pens thousands of hogs, sheep and poultry. Many dwellings were burned without any justification.
Sherman in his own Memoirs testifies to the conduct of his men, estimating that he had destroyed $80,000,000 worth of property of which he could make no use. This he describes as "simple waste and destruction." One of the most serious aspects of his work was the destruction of the railroads the Central from Macon to Savannah, for instance, was almost totally ruined.
The War Nerd: Why Sherman was right to burn Atlanta
KUWAIT CITY &mdash There are times when the sheer ignorance and ingratitude of the American public makes you sick.
This week marks the 150 th anniversary of Sherman&rsquos March from Atlanta to the Sea, which set off on November 16, 1864&mdashthe most remarkable military campaign on the 19 th century, the campaign which got Lincoln reelected, broke the back of the Confederacy, and slapped most of Dixie&rsquos insane diehards into the realization they were defeated.
You&rsquod think our newspaper of record, the New York Times, would find an appropriate way to mark the occasion, but the best the old Confederate-gray lady could come up with was a churlish, venomous little screed by an obscure neo-Confederate diehard named Phil Leigh. Leigh poses a stupid question: &ldquoWho Burned Atlanta?&rdquo and comes up with a stupider answer: &ldquoSherman, that bad, bad man!&rdquo
Leigh actually thinks he&rsquos fixing blame&mdashblame!&mdashfor Sherman&rsquos perfectly sensible, conventional action, the burning of a major rail center in his rear before setting out unsupported across enemy territory.
What next? Will the NYT dig up some crusty tenth-generation Tory sulking in the suburbs of Toronto to ask, &ldquoWho Killed All Those Innocent Redcoats on Bunker Hill?&rdquo Or a sob story by the Imperial Japanese Navy&rsquos last surviving sailor asking, &ldquoWho Sank All Our Carriers?&rdquo
Leigh&rsquos silly article could only work on totally ignorant readers, or on his fellow tenth-generation sulkers brooding about what went wrong circa 1863. And the funny side of that is that Sherman, more than anyone else in U.S. history, devoted his life to trying to slap these Dixie dreamers into waking up and thinking like grown-ups.
But it&rsquos hopeless, as Leigh&rsquos article reveals. Here&rsquos Phil Leigh, a 21 st century American, implicitly defending the old Southern delusion about a kindly, gentlemanly war:
Phil Leigh seems to be the only human alive who doesn&rsquot &ldquo&hellipaccept war as intrinsically cruel&hellip&rdquo? All over the world, if you asked someone, &ldquoIs war intrinsically cruel, sir/madam?&rdquo they&rsquod look at you like you were insane. But there does happen to be one demographic&mdashan arguably insane one, indeed&mdashwhich does not accept that war is cruel: the bitter white Southern neo-Confederate one to which Leigh belongs. For them, war was wonderful when it was just brave Southern gentlemen killing 360,000 loyal American soldiers.
That was the good war, as far as they were concerned. War became &ldquointrinsically cruel&rdquo for them when that dastardly Sherman started visiting its consequences on rural Georgia, burning or destroying all supplies that could be used by the Confederate armies which had been slaughtering American troops for several years. Oh, that bad, bad Sherman!
Let&rsquos settle Leigh&rsquos little mind puzzle right off: Yeah, Leigh&mdashyou pus-filled sack of sore loser&mdashyou&rsquore right, Atlanta was burned by William Tecumseh Sherman, the greatest general in American history. Damn right. That&rsquos not a matter of blame, but of sound military sense.
What Southern romanticists like Leigh will never get&mdashbecause it&rsquos their very nature not to get it, just as a paranoid schizophrenic can never get that no one is persecuting him&mdashis that Sherman&rsquos whole military enterprise was an attempt to stop the slaughter by slapping the South into adulthood. From way before the war, when Sherman was a professor at a military academy in Louisiana, his attitude toward the South&rsquos Planter culture was like a fond uncle watching his idiot nephew stumbling into a fast car, planning to drive drunk into the nearest tree.
Sherman tried to tell these idiots, over and over, that they were stupid and deluded. He wasn&rsquot even going to debate the non-existent justice of their cause like Grant, who rightly called the Confederacy &ldquothe worst cause for which men ever fought.&rdquo Sherman, who was a much more analytical, intellectual man than Grant, focused on the fact that the South&mdashthe white, wealthy South, that is the only one that mattered&mdashwas wrong. About everything. Every damn thing in the world. But most of all about its childishly romantic notions about war. Here&rsquos what he said to his Southern friends before the war:
That was Sherman&rsquos advice to the South before the war even began. And he was, as usual, absolutely right. But he was talking like a grown-up to people who didn&rsquot want to think like adults. Their whole society was based on horrible lies&mdash&ldquoa bad cause to start with&rdquo&mdashwhich gave them a deep aversion to cold truths. So they stuffed themselves, as Mark Twain said, with copious doses of the worst &ldquochivalrous&rdquo nonsense they could find, like Walter Scott&rsquos pseudo-medieval novels, and went off to cause the biggest slaughter of their fellow Americans in history, a body-count far higher than the sum total of all Americans killed in all wars with other countries.
Oh, but that was glorious, for idiots like Phil Leigh. What was non-glorious was Sherman burning Atlanta. You see what Sherman was up against? That&rsquos why his campaigns, unlike any other Union general&rsquos and in fact any other waged by an American commander until the age of &ldquohearts and minds&rdquo warfare dawned a century later, were designed, above all, to smack awake a crazed and homicidally delusional population. Like John Wayne slapping some hysterical private, Sherman tried, in everything he said and did, to make the South face reality.
Sherman knew the wider world, and tried to warn the arrogant provincials who ran the Confederacy what it meant to them&mdashall the peoples wiped out of existence for far less sustained craziness than the South was demonstrating, and all the eager immigrants waiting to take the traitors&rsquo places:
Sherman was trying, in everything he did, to wake these idiots from their delusion. That&rsquos why they hate Sherman so much, 150 years after his campaign ended in total success: Because he interrupted their silly and sadistic dreams, humiliated them in the most vulnerable part of their weird anatomy, their sense of valorous superiority. Sherman didn&rsquot wipe out the white South, though he could easily have done so he was, in fact, very mild toward a treasonous population that regularly sniped at and ambushed his troops. But what he did was demonstrate the impotence of the South&rsquos Planter males.
The taking and burning of Atlanta were just one more chance to slap the South awake, as Sherman saw it. When he was scolded&mdashby people who were in the habit of whipping slaves half to death for trivial lapses&mdashfor his severity toward the (white, landowning) people of Atlanta, he replied, in his &ldquoLetter to Atlanta,&rdquo in a way that shows how patiently he kept trying to talk grown-up sense to an insane population:
"The only way the people of Atlanta can hope once more to live in peace and quiet at home, is to stop the war, which can only be done by admitting that it began in error and is perpetuated in pride.
&ldquoYou have heretofore read public sentiment in your newspapers, that live by falsehood and excitement and the quicker you seek for truth in other quarters, the better. I repeat then that, by the original compact of government, the United States had certain rights in Georgia, which have never been relinquished and never will be that the South began the war by seizing forts, arsenals, mints, custom-houses, etc., etc., long before Mr. Lincoln was installed, and before the South had one jot or tittle of provocation. I myself have seen in Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, hundreds and thousands of women and children fleeing from your armies and desperadoes, hungry and with bleeding feet&hellipBut these comparisons are idle. I want peace, and believe it can only be reached through union and war, and I will ever conduct war with a view to perfect an early success.&rdquo Seems clear enough, right? &ldquoI just took your city, and out-thought as well as out-fought your generals and troops (and by the way, just to lay another fond Southern myth to rest, the Confederate troops who faced Sherman&rsquos army were inferior, not just in numbers or equipment, but man-for-man, one-on-one, as they showed in dozens of battles)&mdashso are you going to wake up and stop whistling Dixie, you loons?&rdquo
The answer was obvious: No, they weren&rsquot. They still haven&rsquot, as Phil Leigh&rsquos nasty little commemoration of Sherman&rsquos March demonstrates. You can&rsquot fix crazy, and it seems to breed true down the generations.
Crazy people don&rsquot need, or want, evidence. They prefer anecdotes with crying little girls. So here&rsquos Phil Leigh&rsquos case that burning Atlanta was a bad thing:
Yes, one Michigan soldier, who was in a position to help slap the South awake by showing its impotence in the face of America&rsquos vengeance, was overcome by sentimentality and &ldquodropped the torch.&rdquo But that torch, as it were, was passed to stronger hands, and Atlanta burned. As it should have. You know what&rsquos worse than a little girl asking &ldquoMister Soldier&rdquo not to burn her house? Getting your leg sawed off by a drunken corpsman after a Minie ball fired by traitors turned your femur into bone shards. Or getting a letter that your son died of gangrene in one of those field hospitals where the screaming never stopped, and the stench endured weeks after the army had moved on. Those are the realities of war that Sherman hated&mdashtruly hated, which is something you can&rsquot say by any means about most successful generals&mdashand tried to bring to a quick end.
Sherman never forgot those horrors. I repeat, he was one of a very few great generals I know who genuinely hated war, and he never lost a chance to say so:
Sherman never stopped talking like this, even after the war, when memories dimmed and a sentimental nostalgia became the norm among aging Union veterans. Most people know that Sherman said, &ldquoWar is Hell,&rdquo but few know that he said it in a context where it took real courage, where he was raining on a bunch of young military graduates&rsquo parades. That quote comes from an address Sherman made at a graduation ceremony for the Michigan Military Academy (as long as we&rsquore gonna talk about &ldquoMister Soldier&rdquo from Michigan!) and he told those guys flat-out they&rsquod picked the wrong major:
Here again we see Sherman in his true glory, a cold, bright mind in a world of bloody, hypocritical, murderous sentimental Victorian swine. I only truly love two Civil War commanders, Sherman and George Thomas, the best of all. But Thomas was a softer man than Sherman, too tender by half to see what Sherman saw. Sherman saw the horror full-on, and never flinched.
But that horror just doesn&rsquot register with the Phil Leighs of the world. As far as they&rsquore concerned, it was glorious to kill 300,000 loyal American soldiers in defense of the most vile social system since Sparta. (And by the way, it&rsquos no wonder that rotten movie 300 was so popular in Leigh&rsquos demographic, because the parallels between fuckin&rsquo Sparta and the friggin&rsquo Confederacy are as numerous and disgusting as the roaches in my Kuwait City apartment.)
As far as the Times' resident neo-Confederate's concerned, the war was going swimmingly until Sherman came along and bummed their high by abandoning their ersatz chivalry and showing the Planters&rsquo sons their total impotence by marching through their heartland, burning and looting as they pleased.
Sherman, as usual, saw clearly that the craziness of the white South was bone-deep, and could never fully be eradicated. He wouldn&rsquot have been surprised to read Phil Leigh&rsquos spitball-commemoration of his Atlanta victory. What Sherman did hope&mdashand it was a realistic hope, fulfilled by history&mdashwas to suppress the South&rsquos craziness for a few generations:
And it worked it wasn&rsquot until the past decade or so that these neo-Confederate vermin dared to raise their heads and start hissing their crazy nonsense in public. So Sherman&rsquos alleged brutality, you see, Mister Leigh, was not a matter of blame, or a regrettable side-effect of his campaign. It was the point of his campaign. Sherman began with the goal of humiliating a Southern white elite consumed by delusions of superiority, and the plumes of smoke his bummers sent up as they burned the mansions in their sixty-mile wide swath were meant as a form of advertising: &ldquoSee? See what we can do if we want to? Now will you fucking wake up?&rdquo
Sherman burned Atlanta for two reasons, both perfectly sound:
- Because no sane general, planning to send an army of more than 60,000 men across the enemy&rsquos heartland with no supply line or hope of reinforcement, would leave a major rail/supply center like Atlanta intact in his rear. Burning Atlanta was a no-brainer. Any commander would have done the same, but very few would have dared undertake the march from Atlanta to the Sea at all. It was so radical a plan that British military historian B. H. Liddell Hart claimed it marked Sherman as &ldquothe first modern general&rdquo and placed him alongside Napoleon and Belisarius as one of the greatest commanders of all time.
- Because every column of smoke rising from a burning mansion, barn, or granary was intended by Sherman as a signal to a psychotically stubborn, deluded Confederate (white, landowning) population that they had lost, and that every additional life lost was, as he kept trying to tell them, an atrocity, a crime far greater than property destruction.
Sherman never admitted to ordering the burning of Atlanta, because&mdashlet&rsquos be honest here&mdashthere are two rules for American wars: What we do to foreigners, and what we do to other Americans&mdashand for some reason, most historians persist in considering the slave-selling traitors, America-hating swine who ran the Confederacy as Americans. So we could never treat them as we did the people of, say, Tokyo or Dresden, even though the people of those two cities were never responsible for killing so many Americans as the Confederates did.
So Sherman said only this about the burning:
He, unlike the Phil Leighs of the world, was thinking about all the horrors of endless guerrilla war: &ldquoIf the United States submits to a division now, it will not stop, but will go on until we reap the fate of Mexico, which is eternal war&hellip&rdquo &mdash which terrified sane grown-ups both North and South, including Robert E. Lee, who told his aides that it was the horror of guerrilla war that made him accept the humiliation of surrender. When the very young, excitable General Porter Alexander proposed that the Army of Northern Virginia literally head for the hills and try guerrilla warfare, Lee answered like a real grown-up:
Lee wasn&rsquot as sensible as he could have been because any sane Southern officer knew very well that after the twin defeats at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, the lousy grand old cause was lost and all deaths from now on were completely in vain. But at least he knew that guerrilla war usually inflicts ten casualties on the occupied, i.e. the South, for every one inflicted on the occupier, i.e. the Union troops. But then Lee had moments of lucidity in an otherwise chivalry-warped consciousness the Phil Leighs among us have none.
Sherman was, by contrast, the most grimly sane American ever born&mdashand compared to the endless, mindless brutality of guerrilla war&mdasha Jesse & Frank James world, a Quantrill world, metastasized across the continent, compared to which burning a few houses was a wholesome purgative.
Of course, this is all lost on the Phil Leighs of the world, who&mdashfor reasons that cut deep into the ideology of the American right wing&mdashalways take burnt houses too seriously, and dead people far too lightly. To them, burning a house is a crime, while shooting a Yankee soldier in the eye is just part of war&rsquos rich tapestry. So their horror of messing with private property joins their sense of emasculation, and their total ignorance of what war on one&rsquos home ground actually means, to form a sediment that could never have been cured, even temporarily, except by the river of armed humanity Sherman sent pouring south and east from Atlanta on November 15, 1864. That cold shower woke them for a little while, at least&mdashlong enough to quicken the end of the war and save thousands of lives.
That was all Sherman hoped for. He&rsquod spent time with these guys, and knew they could never really be cured:
Well, they&rsquove gained about 60 pounds per capita and forgotten how to ride a horse, but they&rsquore still around, still sulking, and, thanks to the New York Times, they&rsquove been able to let the rest of us know it. After all, what good is a 150-year sulk if nobody notices it?