Publish date:
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1864

Atlanta is evacuated

In preparation for his march to the sea, Union General William T. Sherman orders residents of Atlanta, Georgia, to evacuate the city.

Even though Sherman had just successfully captured Atlanta with minimal losses, he was worried about his supply lines, which stretched all the way to Louisville, Kentucky. With Confederate cavalry leader Nathan Bedford Forrest on the loose, Sherman expected to have a difficult time maintaining an open line of communication and reasoned that he could not stay in Atlanta for long. The number of troops committed to guarding the railroad and telegraph lines was almost as many as he had with him in Atlanta.

For Sherman, the defeated residents of Atlanta could only hinder him in his preparations since they represented mouths to feed in addition to his own army. Furthermore, he did not want to bear responsibility for women and children in the midst of his army. Eviction of the residents was Sherman’s most logical solution. He wrote, “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 mayor of Atlanta, James Calhoun, protested, but Sherman curtly replied, “War is cruelty and you cannot refine it.” The general provided transportation south of the city, where the refugees would be let loose near the defeated army of Confederate General John Bell Hood. Between September 11 and 16 some 446 families, about 1,600 people, left their homes and possessions. One young Atlanta woman, Mary Gay, lamented bitterly that her fellow citizens “were dumped out upon the cold ground without shelter and without any of the comforts of home.” They had only the “cold charity of the world.”

Sherman’s order surely didn’t win him any fans among the Southerners, but he was only starting to build his infamous reputation with the Confederates. In November, he embarked on his march to the sea, during which his army destroyed nearly everything that lay in its path.

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