In Their Own Words
December 07, 1864
Eyewitness Account of Atlanta Destruction
Gen. W.P. Howard, of the Georgia State Militia, sent Gov. Joseph E. Brown an eyewitness account on the extent of damage to Atlanta following Sherman’s occupation of the city. Howard’s report dramatically portrayed a city largely in ruins:
Atlanta, Ga., Dec. 7th, 1864
To His Excellency Joseph E. Brown, Governor of Georgia:
In obedience to orders of Nov. 25, to inspect the State property in Atlanta, and the city itself, and protect the same, I have the honor to make the following report. With it I beg leave to present your Excellency with a pencilled map of the city, showing the position of every house left unburned.
The property of the State was destroyed by fire, yet a vast deal of valuable material remains in the ruins. Three-fourths of the bricks are good and will be suitable for rebuilding if placed under shelter before freezing weather. There is a quantity of brass in the journals of burned cars and in the ruins of the various machinery of the extensive railroad shops; also, a valuable amount of copper from the guttering of the State depot, the flue pipes of destroyed engines, stop cocks of machinery, etc. The car wheels that were uninjured by fire were rendered useless by breaking the flanges. In short, every species of machinery that was not destroyed by fire was most ingeniously broken and made worthless in its original form – the large steam boilers, the switches, the frogs, etc. Nothing has escaped. The fire engines, except Tallulah No. 3, were sent North. Tallulah has been overhauled and a new fire company organized. Nos. 1 and 2 fire engine houses were saved. All the city pumps were destroyed, except one on Marietta Street. The car shed, the depots, machine shops, foundries, rolling mills, merchant mills, arsenals, laboratory, armory, etc., were all burned.
In the angle between hunter Street, commencing at the City hall, running east, and McDonough Street, running southern, all houses were destroyed. The jail and calaboose were burned. All business houses, except those on Alabama Street, commencing with the Gate City Hotel, running east to Loyd Street, were burned. All the hotels, except the Gate City were burned. By referring to my map, you will find about 400 houses standing. The scale of the map is 400 feet to one inch. Taking the car-shed for the center, describe a circle, the diameter of which is twelve inches, and you will perceive that the circle contains about 300 squares. Then, at a low estimate, allow three houses to every 400 feet, and we will have 3600 houses in the circle. Subtract the number of houses indicated on the map, as standing, and you will see by this estimate, the enemy have destroyed 3200 houses. Refer to the exterior of the circle, and you will discover that it is more than half a mile to the city limits, in every direction, which was thickly populated, say nothing of the houses beyond, and you will see that the enemy have destroyed from four to five thousand houses. Two-thirds of the shade trees in the Park and city, and of the timber in the suburbs have been destroyed. The suburbs present to the eye one vast, naked, ruined, deserted camp. The Masonic Hall is not burned, though the corner-stone is badly scarred by some thief, who would have robbed it of its treasure, but for the timely interference of some mystic brother.
The City Hall is damaged but not burned. The Second Baptist, Second [Central] Presbyterian, Trinity and Catholic churches and all the residences adjacent between Mitchell and Peters streets, running south of east, and Loyd and Washington streets running south of west, are safe, all attributable to Father O’Reilly, who refused to give up his parsonage to Yankee officers, who were looking out for fine houses for quarters, and there being a large number of Catholics in the Yankee army, who volunteered to protect their Church and Parsonage, and would not allow any homes adjacent to be fired that would endanger them. As a proof of their attachment to their Church and love for Father O’Reilly, a soldier who attempted to fire Col. Calhoun’s house, the burning of which would have endangered the whole block was shot and killed, and his grave is now marked. So to Father O’Reilly the country is indebted for the protection of the City Hall, Churches, etc.
Dr. Quintard’s, Protestant Methodist, the Christian, and African churches were destroyed. All other churches were saved. The Medical College was saved by Dr. D’Alvigny who was left in charge of our wounded. The Female College was torn down for the purpose of obtaining the brick with which to construct winter quarters. All institutions of learning were destroyed. The African church was used as an academy for educating negroes. Roderick Badger, a negro Dentist, and his brother, Bob Badger, a train-hand on the West Point and La Grange Railroad, both well known to the citizens of Atlanta, were assistant professors to three philanthropic Northmen in this institution. Very few negroes remained in the city. Thirteen 32-pound rifle cannon, with cascabels and trunnions broken off and jammed in the muzzles, remain near the Ga. R.R. shop. One well reported to be filled with ammunition. Fragments of wagons, wheels, axles, bodies, etc., are strewn over the city. Could I have arrived ten days earlier, with a guard of 100 men, I could have saved the State and city a million dollars.
There are about 250 wagons in the city on my arrival, loading with pilfered plunder; pianoes, mirrors, furniture of all kinds, iron, hides without number, and an incalculable amount of other things, very valuable at the present time. This exportation of stolen property have been going on ever since the place had been abandoned by the enemy. Bushwhackers, robbers and deserters, and citizens from the surrounding country for a distance of fifty miles have been engaged in this dirty work.
Many of the finest houses, mysteriously left unburned, are filled with the finest furniture, carpets, pianoes, mirrors, etc., and occupied by parties who six months ago lived in humble style. About fifty families remained during the occupancy of the city by the enemy, and about the same number have returned since its abandonment. From two to three thousand dead carcasses of animals remain in the city limits.
Horses were turned loose in the cemetery to graze upon the grass and shrubbery. The ornaments of graves, such as marble lambs, miniature statuary, souvenirs of departed little ones are broke and scattered abroad. The crowning act of all their wickedness and villiany was committed by our ungodly for in removing the dead from the vaults in the cemetery, and robbing the coffins of the silver name plates and tipping, and depositing their own dead in the vaults.
I have the honor to be, Respectfully,
Your obedient Servant,