150 years ago today, Federal soldiers under the command of Major General William T. Sherman entered into the city of Atlanta, seizing one of the greatest prizes of the entire American Civil War.
The ultimate Union victory in the Civil War was shaped and cemented by three tremendously important events occurring during the war itself.
1. The Battle of Antietam in September 1862 not only repulsed Robert E. Lee’s Confederate force from Maryland, thereby averting a crisis for Lincoln, but provided Lincoln a Union victory with which to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, arguably the single most important political event of the war.
2. The Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July 1863 effectively broke the military back of the Confederacy. Vicksburg gave Federals complete control of the Mississippi, and Gettysburg bled Lee’s army to the point where it would never again be able to launch such an invasion of the North.
3. The fall of Atlanta, occurring 150 years ago today, was a debilitating blow to the South. It disrupted Southern rail transportation, Southern morale, Southern war making capabilities, and most importantly, signaled one of the greatest victories of the war just weeks before the 1864 presidential election. Countless historians have rightly attributed the re-election of Abraham Lincoln to the boost provided by the fall of Atlanta. In many ways, the events of 150 years ago today provided the final nail in the coffin of the Confederacy. The south was not yet dead; the events of Franklin, Nashville, and Petersburg would prove that Confederate forces still had plenty of fight. Yet, the fall of Atlanta signaled that the end was near.
150 years ago today, it was the men of Henry Slocum’s 20th Corps, Army of the Cumberland, that entered the confines of Atlanta as victors. With Hood’s evacuation of the city just hours before, Slocum’s Federals were the first Union troops to enter the city that would forever by infamous for its connection with William T. Sherman. In a moment of great irony, Slocum had been present at each one of the events listed above: he commanded a division in the 6th Corps in the Antietam Campaign, and at Gettysburg, Slocum led the 12th Corps, Army of the Potomac. 150 years ago today, on the afternoon of September 2, 1864, Major General Henry Slocum sent a dispatch to Washington, the first line of which read, “General Sherman has taken Atlanta.”
The goal for which Federals under Sherman’s command had been dying for over the course of several months had finally been reached. The men who had fought, bled, sweated, and died at places like Rocky Face Ridge, Resaca, Pickett’s Mill, Kennesaw Mountain, and Peachtree Creek, had all hoped for this day. Yet, despite the tremendous victory that had been won, there were more goals ahead, bigger and more important ones, ones that would ultimately secure the restoration of the Union, the abolition of slavery, and the opportunity to create an even more perfect Union. All that was just around the corner 150 years ago today.