“Sherman, The March Through Georgia”

new york herald

December 28, 1864

Collection: The Civil War
Publication: The New York Herald
Date: December 28, 1864
Operations of SlocumColumn on the Left Wing.
MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga., Nov. 23, 1864.
On the morning of November 9 I sent a despatch to the
HERALD, giving as much information as could with propriety be
given regarding the destruction and evacuation of Atlanta, and
the inauguration of a new and startling campaign through
Georgia; for it was freely canvassed and speculated upon by
officers of the Twentieth corps long before that date, and had
come to be generally believed that the army was going to Macon,
to Augusta, to Andersonville, to Mobile, to Savannah, to
Charleston, to a dozen other objective points, as the exuberant
fancy of the American warrior dictated. Beyond the fact that
we were going somewhere – the paying and clothing of troops,
sending surplus stores and artillery to the rear, &c., pointed
to that – all was speculation. The enemy speculated as we did,
locating Shermandestination as far north as Nashville,
crowed considerably over Hoodmasterly movement in forcing
Sherman to evacuate Atlanta, believed so implicitly in its
success that they came in on the morning of the 8th of
November, got whipped and went out – an account of which I sent
Atlanta commenced burning on the night of Friday, the 11th
of November, although the authorized destruction of public
buildings did not begin till the 15th. The fire broke out in a
block of cheap tenement houses on Decatur street, near the edge
of the town, where eight buildings were destroyed. Within an
hour large fires were burning in five other localities, and the
eager watchers in the camp began to think that the last days of
the Gate City had come. The fire engines had been loaded on
cars for transportation to Chattanooga, and it was some time
before they could be brought to work against the flames, which
threatened the destruction of the entire southern portion of
the city. The patrol guard was doubled, and orders issued to
them to shoot down any person seen firing buildings, before the
masses of the troops watching the fierce blazes could be
convinced that the time for destruction had not come.
Twenty-two buildings, principally dwelling houses, were burned
by incendiaries that Friday night, and a dense cloud of smoke
hung over the town when the sun rose. Soldiers had labored
faithfully during the night to save what they would have gladly
destroyed if the destruction had been sanctioned by order.
Next morning General Slocum offered a reward of $500 for the
detection of any soldier engaged in the incendiarism, but no
traces of the perpetrators were discovered. The fires on
Friday night were subsequently declared to be the work of some
soldiers exasperated at the murder of a comrade. Saturday was
a quiet day, yet there was a great tremor among the few people
who remained in Atlanta when they remembered the whisperings of
the soldiers about the burning of the city.
Sunday, the 13th of November, the Fourteenth, Fifteenth and
Seventeenth corps commenced themarch from Kingston and
Marietta, where they had been resting ten days, towards
Atlanta, tearing up the track and burning as they came. The
last train over the Atlantic and Western Railroad went north
Saturday night. Accounts of the destruction of Rome, Marietta
and Kingston, Cartersville, Acworth and the rest have
undoubtedly been published by you long before this, and I will
not attempt a description of the devastation of those places
here. When I tell you that Union coffee sacks, cracker boxes,
pork barrels, sugar barrels, clothing, boxes and bales of
blankets were burst open and strewn about there, free for every
Yankee soldier to come and take, you will realize the reckless
disregard of rebel property. All that was left of government
stores when the railroad closed business was either given to
the troops for transportation or burned. A million of dollars
worth of property was destroyed in Marietta alone. A long line
of light, like an aurora, Sunday night, marked the burning of
the railroad and the Chattahoochee bridge from the river to the
northwest as far as we in Atlanta could see. The railroad from
the Etowah to Atlanta will be useless while this war lasts.
Sunday morning, the Fifteenth and Seventeenth corps marched
through Atlanta and camped two miles out on the Jonesboro road.
The Fourteenth corps crossed the Chattahoochee and took up the
pontoon bridges, and General Shermanarmy had emphatically
into a hole and taken the hole in after it.”
A few small fires occurred in Atlanta on Sunday night and
during the forenoon of Monday, but they created no particular
excitement, since the Michigan Mechanics and Engineers had
already commenced work on the railroad in town. Everything in
the way of destruction was now considered authorized, and not
to be wondered at. The mechanics, with levers made for the
purpose, overturned length after length of rail, piled up pile
after pile of ties, and burned and twisted rails without
number. On Marietta street Winshipiron foundry and machine
shops – property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars – took
fire and was destroyed; an oil refinery near by caught from the
flying sparks, and was soon in a fierce blaze; next followed a
freight warehouse, in which were stored fifty or sixty bales of
cotton; there the engineers worked under a heavy cloud of
smoke. The round house, turning tables, freight sheds, repair
shops, &c., of the Macon Railroad, were burned and the walls
razed to the ground; a rebel corral or cattle yard, the Atlanta
tannery, together with a dozen or fifteen deserted houses on
the northwestern skirt of the town, were fired, and the work of
Monday was accomplished.
Tuesday morning, November 15, the Fourteenth corps marched
into town noisily by the Marietta road, past the smouldering
ruins of Mondayfires, and the Twentieth corps marched out by
the Decatur road, through a quarter then unscathed. Part of
the day was occupied in issuing clothing and rations to the
Fourteenth and the loading of commissary and quartermaster
stores for the campaign. While this was going on, before noon,
some warehouses on Whitehall street were fired. Tall blocks of
brick buildings on either side of that and Peach Tree street
were burning fifteen minutes later. The Atlanta Hotel,
Washington Hall, in short the whole square around the great
railroad shed, were soon in flames. Drug stores, dry goods
stores, hotels, commission stores, negro marts, places of
amusements – including the Atheneum – covering a space of
twenty acres or more in the heart of the city, burned fiercely,
and the black smoke rolled up. The pillars supporting the
great Union passenger depot had been knocked out and the roof
had fallen to the ground, covering with a maze of debris a
collection of wornout army wagons, shelter tents, refuse camp
stores, &c. This was fired, and added to the fury of the
flames. A mine was exploded under a large stone warehouse near
by, and that was a ruin. The round house, freight buildings,
repair shops and water tanks of theGeorgia Railroad next came
in for destruction. Smoke and flame burst forth unexpectedly
from the windows of blocks as one would pass them, and soon cut
off retreat by the route he came. The fire was too fast for
the quartermasters, and they gave permission to the soldiers to
take what they pleased of the remaining stores. With shouts
the men plunged under the smoke burnt windows and doors with
muskets and staves and emerged with armsfull of coats and
blankets. Fire burned over two- thirds of the city. Yankee
shells, which had been thrown into the buildings during the
siege, exploded as the fire progressed; howling men darted
hither and thither throughthe hot streets in the dim light
under the clouds of smoke, and the whole seemed a perfect
pandemonium. It was the total destruction of the business part
of the city. When I rode out, at five P. M. on Tuesday, the
heart of Atlanta was a shameless mass of ruins – bricks, tin
roofs, charred and burning timbers – and the balance of the
town was in a fair way for being burned. The sun seemed a
blood red ball throughthe cloud of smoke that overhung Atlanta
as I looked back from the fortifications on the Decatur road.
The Atlanta of today is probably not half so large as the
city when our army sat down before it in July. The Front House
is the only hotel left; there are no railroad buildings, and no
material which can be made of service in rebuilding them; there
are no railroads and no straight iron or ties to construct
them; there are no workshops, no warehouses, no tanneries, and
no stores except such as were isolated from the business
portion of the town. The churches were left; but scores of
private residences, the homes of wealthy rebels, were
destroyed. Of course it is impossible to estimate the amount
of damage in dollars and cents (rebel), for the mind is lost in
calculating it; but when I tell you that upwards of one million
of dollars of United States property was destroyed before we
left, you may estimate the rebel and Georgia losses for
There are perhaps twenty while families left in Atlanta,
comprising two hundred souls. The grown people were stricken
and sorrowful when we left; the tow headed children – aged for
young folks – and given to playing with mimic forts and spool
guns, were gleeful in learning from the burning of the town a
new lesson in the art of war. Nearly all the Atlanta negroes
went North.
It was intended to take for the campaign about twenty day
rations of sugar and coffee, with four rations”- i.e.,
four times the usual quantity – of salt; the beef to be driven
along with the column on foot. The Twentieth corps started
with the full allowance of stores; but, to the best of my
information, the balance of the army did not come up to the
twenty daystandard. If the country through which we were to
march should prove unproductive of supplies, you see that we
could have subsisted during a considerable campaign on the
supplies we carted along.


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