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Civil War Series

The Campaign for Atlanta

   

"ATLANTA IS OURS"

Confederate pickets quickly discovered and reported that the Federals had vacated their trenches. At first Hood thought that this might mean that Sherman was retreating, as he had received greatly exaggerated claims of success from Wheeler and both spies and civilians testified that the Yankees were short of food. Soon, however, he ascertained that except for the XX Corps all of the Union army was to the southwest of Atlanta and that its probable objective was the Macon railroad. But exactly where on that railroad would Sherman strike? Until Hood knew that—and also could be sure that Sherman was not merely feinting toward the railroad before assaulting Atlanta on its weakly fortified south side—all Hood could do was what he did do: wait for reliable intelligence as to Sherman's movements and intentions.

That came on the evening of August 30 in the form of cavalry reports to the effect that Howard's Army of the Tennessee was approaching Jonesboro. At once Hood ordered Hardee to march his and Lee's corps to that town and in the morning drive Howard's forces into the Flint River, following which Lee would return to Atlanta and join Stewart in attacking the rest of Sherman's army from the north while Hardee assailed it from the south. Once more Hood, not content simply to parry one of Sherman's thrusts, sought to smash him.

As before, he failed. Although Hardee's Corps, under the acting command of Cleburne, reached Jonesboro on the morning of August 31, all of Lee's Corps, which had a longer march to make, did not arrive there until early afternoon. As a result Hardee was unable to deliver his attack until about 3:30 P.M. By then Howard, whose 20,000 troops at least equaled in number Hardee's effective force, had had ample time to fortify along a line of ridges west of Jonesboro. Only by some military miracle could the Confederates have carried the Union position, and no such miracle occurred. Instead, the Federals, with Logan's XV Corps doing most of the fighting, easily repulsed the ill-coordinated and halfhearted Rebel assaults, inflicting approximately 2,200 casualties, 1,400 of them in Lee's Corps, while suffering a mere 172 themselves. It was a more one sided slaughter than even Ezra Church had been and the only thing that prevented it from being worse was the refusal of many Confederate units to engage the enemy or to press forward once they came under fire.

Shortly after midnight a courier brought Hood word of Hardee's defeat. It had to come by courier because, even as Hardee vainly endeavored to drive Howard's forces away from the Macon railroad, portions of the XXIII, IV, and XIV Corps reached that railroad north of Jonesboro and south of Rough and Ready, whereupon they cut the telegraph wire to Atlanta. Thus, when Hood read Hardee's message, he realized that there was no possibility of regaining control of the railroad and that the only choice left him was to evacuate Atlanta. This he ordered done as soon as it became dark on September 1. Meanwhile, Lee's Corps, as previously directed, would return to Atlanta to guard against a Federal thrust from the south, and Hardee was to hold on at Jonesboro so as to cover the retreat of the rest of the Confederate army southward.


THE CITIZENS' WAR: INSIDE ATLANTA DURING THE SIEGE

Just before noon on Wednesday, July 20, 1864, a family of Southern refugees composed of a father, mother, and a little girl stood at the corner of East Ellis Street and Ivy Street—now known as Peachtree Center Avenue. To the east, a Federal artillery crew loaded a shell into their 20-pounder Parrott rifle and pulled the lanyard, sending the projectile hurtling through the sweltering summer air. The shell exploded right over the refugee family, and when the smoke cleared the stunned parents saw their little girl lying dead in the dusty street. The siege of Atlanta had claimed its first noncombatant victim.

Atlanta's civilians shared the danger and misery of their defenders for more than six weeks. Some citizens did leave, especially in the first few days of the siege, including the newspaper publishers and postal officials, but many stayed or returned shortly afterward when Sherman's troops failed to take the city.

Union shells rained on the city until it surrendered, forty-four days later, but at first the bombardment was so indolent that residents found little cause to avoid it beyond giving a wideberth to prominent targets like railroad landmarks and tall buildings. On July 23 a store owner named S. P. Richards recorded that a shell landing near his home threw dirt in his open windows, and that night he positioned his family's beds behind the shelter of his chimney, but he noted that he saw no more damage done that night.

The pace of the barrage increased as the Federals seemed to grow impatient. Citizens frequently retreated to their cellars, or dug makeshift bunkers in their yards, to avoid the sudden flurries of shells. One little girl who kept a diary wrote of spending the entire day of August 9 in her family's cellar because the shells were dropping so closely around her house.

CITIZENS LEAVING ATLANTA IN COMPLIANCE WITH SHERMAN'S ORDERS. (COURTESY OF THE ATLANTA HISTORY CENTER)

August 9 proved to he the bloodiest day of the siege for the citizens of Atlanta. One shell exploded in a house at the corner of Elliott and Rhodes streets, instantly killing both J. H. Warner, superintendent of the city gas company, and his six-year-old daughter; a woman ironing clothing in a house on Pryor Street was killed by another shell; a free black barber named, ironically, Solomon Luckie, was wounded in the leg by a shell fragment while standing at the corner of Whitehall and Alabama streets and died in spite of an amputation; a young woman walking near the railroad depot was struck in the back by a piece of shell and killed; a Confederate officer saying good-bye to a woman in her front yard was killed, as was her young son, by a single shell.

A few days afterward, S. P. Richards was inspecting the condition of his store when a shell crashed through the rooms above him, covering him in dust.

"It is like living in the midst of a pestilence," Richards wrote. "No one can tell but he may be the next victim."

The fourth week of August began with another heavy barrage, but after three days the shelling subsided as Union troops swept south of Atlanta. August 25 began a week of ominous silence: the calm before the storm. Eight days later, the city fell.

From the outset, Atlanta was crowded with Confederate troops, both on duty and off. On the night of July 21 the store owned by S. P. Richards was broken into by Southern cavalrymen who stole all his merchandise and what little cash he had remaining in the till. Wagons and troops jammed the streets as the Army of Tennessee passed through the city, and male citizens were required to take arms and perform police duty. Wounded men poured into Atlanta, wearing both blue and gray: the fairgrounds became one vast hospital for Confederate casualties, while Union wounded were cared for in the southeastern quadrant of town. Forage for livestock ran out altogether, so horses and cattle subsisted almost entirely on what they could graze from patches of grass.

Martial law ruled the city, and civilians going about their business had to show passes. That ended with the beginning of September, though: when Federal troops gained control of the last rail line into the city, the Confederate army evacuated. Through the night of September 1 and the morning of September 2 throngs of deserters, stragglers, abandoned slaves, and desperate refugees filled the streets, looting empty stores and homes. Residents huddled in their homes, expecting to see their city pillaged either by the mob or by the Yankees. With no other recourse, Mayor James Calhoun rode out Marietta Street that morning and surrendered his city, asking the protection of Union troops for private property and the civilian population.

That protection was granted, but only for a few days. On September 8 General Sherman issued Order No. 67, requiring that all civilians not connected with the Union army depart the city. After a series of indignant, unavailing protests from the Confederates the exodus began, and over ten days virtually all the civilian citizens were evacuated.

—William Marvel

Sherman's orders for September 1 called for the IV Corps, followed by the XXIII Corps, to move down the railroad, destroying the track as it went, until it reached the Jonesboro area where it was to join the XIV Corps in an attack on Hardee's forces, which Sherman thought still included Lee's Corps despite having been notified to the contrary by Thomas. Not until the early afternoon of September 1 did Sherman realize that Thomas's information was correct and that only Hardee's Corps faced him at Jonesboro. He then directed Major General David S. Stanley, who had replaced Howard as commander of the IV Corps, to stop tearing up rails and hasten to assist the XIV Corps in attacking what Sherman believed to be Hardee's exposed right flank north of Jonesboro. If Hardee could be crushed—and Sherman was confident that he would be—then Hood either would have to abandon Atlanta or else stay there until starvation forced him to surrender the city and what was left of his army. Or so Sherman calculated; evidently it did not occur to him that with his only supply line, the Macon railroad, in Union possession, Hood's sole rational alternative was to do what in fact he was preparing to do—leave Atlanta as soon as safely possible.

CAPTURED CONFEDERATES ARE LED TO PRISON CAMP AFTER THE BATTLE OF JONESBORO. (FRANK AND MARIE WOOD PRINT COLLECTION)

Starting at 4 P.M., just as the van of the IV Corps came up, the XIV Corps made a series of assaults on Hardee's right flank. By stripping his front facing Howard's Army of the Tennessee, which Sherman had directed to "demonstrate" but which did not even do that, Hardee was able to reinforce his right sufficiently to beat back the initial attacks. But then three XIV Corps brigades managed to carry a weak point on the Confederate line, swamping the Arkansas brigade of Cleburne's Division, most of whose men held their ground until killed or physically overpowered. It was the first and only successful large-scale frontal attack of the entire campaign. Yet Hardee by bringing up still more troops from his center and left, sealed off the Union breakthrough and also prevented the IV Corps from getting into his rear until night put an end to the battle. Hardee thereupon withdrew his forces from their trenches and headed south toward Lovejoy's Station, having conducted one of the finest defensive stands of the war—thanks in large part to Sherman, who botched an opportunity to demolish Hardee's Corps and so wreck Hood's army.

BEFORE RETREATING FROM ATLANTA, HOOD DESTROYED THIS MILL AND ORDNANCE TRAIN TO PREVENT CAPTURE. (LC)

While Hardee's men marched south, so did the troops of Stewart, Lee, and the Georgia militia as they left Atlanta via the McDonough road. Before departing the Confederates set fire to boxcars filled with ammunition, setting off tremendous explosions that leveled nearby buildings, among them a rolling mill, and which could be heard all the way to Jonesboro. Sherman, unsure as to what this meant, asked a local farmer who told him that it sounded like a battle. Agreeing, Sherman concluded that Hood remained in Atlanta and probably was engaging Union forces south of the city. Sherman also believed that Hardee still was at Jonesboro declaring that it would be impossible for him to slip away undetected.

In the morning, on discovering that Hardee had done precisely that, Sherman gave belated pursuit. North of Lovejoy's Station he came upon Hardee's forces strongly entrenched—so strongly that he decided not to attack and instead await definite word as to the situation in and around Atlanta. Early on the morning of September 3 a dispatch arrived from Major General Henry B. Slocum, who recently had taken command of the XX Corps, that his troops had occupied the city yesterday. That night a telegram from Sherman reached the War Department in Washington. It read: "Atlanta is ours, and fairly won." Two days later, by which time all of Hood's army had reassembled at Lovejoy's, the Union troops, as soon as it was dark, left their trenches and began marching north toward Atlanta. The campaign had ended.

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