September 7, 1864: Beginning of Sherman-Hood Correspondence

After Sherman determined upon his March to the Sea, he contacted his opposite number, Confederate General John Bell Hood, regarding the evacuation of Atlanta of the civilian population of the town, prior to Sherman burning around one-third of the town.  The correspondence makes interesting reading and it is set forth below:


Atlanta, Ga., September 20, 1864.

Maj. Gen. H. W. HALLECK, Chief of Staff, Washington, D.C.:

        GENERAL: I have the honor herewith to submit copies of a correspondence between General Hood, of the Confederate army, the mayor of Atlanta, and myself touching the removal of the inhabitants of Atlanta. In explanation of the tone which marks some of these letters I will only call your attention to the fact that after I had announced my determination General Hood took upon himself to question my motive. I could not tamely submit to such impertinence, and I have seen that in violation of all official usage he has published in the Macon newspapers such parts of the correspondence as suited his purpose. This could have had no other object than to create a feeling on the part of the people, but if he expects to resort to such artifices I think I can meet him there too. It is sufficient for my Government to know that the removal of the inhabitants has been made with liberality and fairness; that it has been attended by no force, and that no women or children have suffered, unless for want of provisions by their natural protectors and friends. My real reasons for this step were, we want all the houses of Atlanta for military storage and occupation. We want to contract the lines of defenses so as to diminish the garrison to the limit necessary to defend its narrow and vital parts instead of embracing, as the lines now do, the vast suburbs. This contraction of the lines, with the necessary citadels and redoubts, will make it necessary to destroy the very houses used by families as residences. Atlanta is a fortified town, was stubbornly defended and fairly captured. As captors we have a right to it. The residence here of a poor population would compel us sooner or later to feed them or see them starve under our eyes. The residence here of the families of our enemies would be a temptation and a means to keep up a correspondence dangerous and hurtful to our cause, and a civil population calls for provost guards, and absorbs the attention of officers in listening to everlasting complaints and special grievances that are not military. These are my reasons, and if satisfactory to the Government of the United States it makes no difference whether it pleases General Hood and his people or not.

I am, with respect, your obedient servant,
Major-General, Commanding. (more…)

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November 12, 1864: Burning of Atlanta


On November 12, 1864 the destruction of sections of Atlanta began under Sherman’s chief of engineers, Captain Orlando Metcalfe Poe.

Sherman had expelled the civilian population from Atlanta in September.  Go here to read about it.


Forced relocation of civilians and the burning of towns and cities is not uncommon in war. George Washington was given the nickname “town destroyer” by the Iroqois after Sullivan’s expedition in 1779 where, under Washington’s orders, numerous Indian towns and villages were destroyed in retaliation for raids against the Americans. Sherman burned Atlanta because he did not want it turned into a Confederate base in his rear as his Army marched to the Sea. A perfectly legitimate, although unpleasant, aspect of war. Of course similar tactics were used by the Confederates in areas they considered disloyal, such as East Tennessee which was heavily Unionist in sympathy. Sherman did not burn churches or hospitals, and ordered that no dwellings be burned. The burning he ordered was to be limited to the business and industrial sections and any Confederate property that Hood had not burned when he retreated from the city. However many civilian dwellings were burned against Sherman’s orders, mostly by civilian looters who had stayed behind to rob vacant house. About 37% of the city was destroyed. The civilian population returned within three weeks later and were well on their way to rebuilding the portions of the city destroyed before the end of the war. The burning of Atlanta was rough business, but it was not a major war atrocity.

Here is Sherman’s brief mention of the destruction in his memoirs: (more…)

Published in: on November 12, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on November 12, 1864: Burning of Atlanta  
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