September 2, 2017


The burning of Atlanta, seared into America's memory (FRANK REEVES, 8/31/14, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

The fall of Atlanta 150 years ago this week was pivotal to the outcome of the Civil War. It increased the odds that Abraham Lincoln would be re-elected president on the Republican Party platform to preserve the Union and abolish slavery.

The immediate effect was to destroy a key Confederate railroad center and manufacturing center, thus depriving Southern armies of vital supplies needed to carry on the war. [...]

In April, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, the Union Army's top commander, had ordered Sherman to attack the Confederate Army of Tennessee under Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. Grant had also ordered Sherman "to get into the enemy's country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their war supplies."

The Union high command also hoped Sherman would be able to prevent Johnston's forces from reinforcing Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, thereby assuring, as one historian has put it, "Grant's expected war-ending victory in Virginia."

With the capture of Atlanta, Sherman was well on his way to accomplishing part of his mission.

"So Atlanta is ours and fairly won," Sherman telegraphed his superiors in Washington, hours after Confederate forces, now under the command of Gen. John B. Hood, abandoned the city. Soon his words were emblazoned in headlines in newspapers across the North. "Wild celebrations," as some newspapers described them, greeted the news in many cities.

"The fall of Atlanta is the severest blow -- considered both in military and political aspects -- which the rebels have received since Vicksburg and Gettysburg," wrote the editors of the Pittsburgh Evening Chronicle, a Republican-leaning newspaper. [...]

Now with Atlanta "fairly won," Sherman had his own plans for the city. On Sept. 7, he notified Hood that he wanted to remove the 1,600 residents who had remained in the city as the Union armies closed in. Sherman said Union troops would escort those who wished to go north to Tennessee and Kentucky and asked Hood's assistance in aiding those who wished to go south.

In a letter to his superiors in Washington, Sherman explained his "real reasons" for advocating what he knew was a controversial proposal: He wanted to use Atlanta's buildings for Union war supplies. He wanted to leave only a minimal force to guard the town. He also did not want the responsibility of supplying food and clothing to the city's beleaguered population.

Hood protested Sherman's decision "in the name of God and humanity."

There then passed between the two men-- 44-year-old Sherman and 33-year-old Hood --an exchange of letters that set the stage for a debate that would last long after the Civil War was over.

"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," Hood wrote Sherman.

But the Union general was unmoved, reminding Hood and other Southerners at every opportunity, that it was they who brought the war on themselves and the country.

"If we must be enemies, let us be men, and fight it out as we propose to do, and not deal with such hypocritical appeals to God and humanity," Sherman replied. "God will judge us in due time."

Atlanta's mayor and city council members also implored Sherman to reconsider his expulsion order. But Sherman was adamant.

"War is cruelty and you cannot refine it," he told Atlanta's leaders. "But my dear sirs, when peace comes, you may call on me for anything. Then I will share with you the last cracker."

It's not terrorism when we do it.
Posted by at September 2, 2017 7:16 AM