The Atlanta Evacuation

September 7, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman, commanding the Federal Army of the West, made the controversial decision to force all residents of Atlanta to leave the city.

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: collaborationnation.wikispaces.com

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: collaborationnation.wikispaces.com

Sherman wrote to General John Bell Hood, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, “I have deemed it to the interest of the United States that the citizens now residing in Atlanta should remove, those who prefer it to go South and the rest North.” The next day, Sherman issued Special Field Order No. 67, announcing that “the city of Atlanta, being exclusively required for warlike purposes, will at once be evacuated by all except the armies of the United States.”[1]

The order infuriated Hood, who called it “studied and ingenious cruelty.” Atlanta Mayor James M. Calhoun called the order “appalling and heartrending.” Sherman responded to the mayor and city council, “I give full credit to your statements of the distress that will be occasioned by it, and yet shall not revoke my order, because my orders are not designed to meet the humanities of the case, but to prepare for the future struggle.” Sherman explained, “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…”[2]

Sherman concluded, “You might as well appeal against the thunder storm as against these terrible hardships of war… Now you must go, and take with you your 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. Yours in haste.”[3]

Sherman then issued a congratulatory order to his soldiers, praising them for capturing Atlanta and completing “the grand task which has been assigned us by our Government.” However, this order failed to note that the real grand task assigned—destroying Hood’s army—had not been achieved, as that Confederate force remained intact in the area.[4]

On September 11, Federal soldiers exiled 446 families totaling about 1,600 people from Atlanta. The Federals prohibited wagons, so the people could only take with them what they could carry. Many were robbed of those few possessions before they reached Confederate lines. Occupation forces seized everything else of value left behind. Sherman wrote, “If the people raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war and not popularity-seeking.” Sherman’s policy of “total war,” which included targeting civilians and destroying cities, made him the most hated man in the South .[5]

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[1] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 12619-12650; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 494; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 567-68

[2] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 12619-12650; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 15; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Loc 55539-55551

[3] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 12619-12650; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 15

[4] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 12619-12650

[5] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 568-69; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Loc 55539-55551

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