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This Day in Georgia Civil War History

September 04, 1864

Sherman Decided to Halt in Atlanta

After accepting the surrender of Atlanta, Union General William T. Sherman decided not to immediately pursue the remnants of Confederate General John Bell Hood’s forces south of Atlanta. Instead, he issued Special Field Order No. 64, which included a directive that his troops were to receive

“a full month’s rest, with every chance to organize, receive pay, replenish clothing, and prepare for a fine winter’s campaign.”

Sherman also issued a special order to the citizens remaining in Atlanta:

“The city of Atlanta being exclusively required for warlike purpose will be at once vacated by all except the armies of the United States, and such civilians as may be retained.”

Sherman wrote a letter to a military official in Washington, D.C., explaining what he intended to do with the citizens of Atlanta.

“… I propose to remove al the inhabitants of Atlanta, sending those committed to our cause to the rear, and the rebel families to the front. I will allow no trade, manufactories, nor any citizens there at all, so that we will have the entire use of the railroad back, as also such corn and forage as may be reached by our troops. If the people raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty I will answer that war is war, and not popularity seeking. If they want peace they and their relatives must stop war.” Source: U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (originally printed 1891, reprinted by The National Historical Society, 1971), Part 5, Vol. 38, pp. 794.

He also wrote the same man a private letter, which showed he did not have an enlightened racial attitude himself, and hoped nothing he said or did reflected badly on President Abraham Lincoln.

“I hope anything I may have said or done will not be construed as unfriendly to Mr. Lincoln or Stanton. That negro letter of mine I never designed for publication, but I am honest in my belief that it is not fair to our men to count negroes as equals. Cannot we at this day drop theories, and be reasonable men? Let us capture negroes, of course, and use them to the best advantage. My quartermaster now could give employment to 3,200, and relieve that number of soldiers who are now used to unload and dispatch trains, whereas those recruiting agents take them back to Nashville, where, so far as my experience goes, they disappear. When I call for expeditions at distant pints, the answer invariable comes they have not sufficient troops. All count the negroes out. On the Mississippi, where Thomas talked about 100,000 negro troops, I find I cannot draw away a white soldier because they are indispensable to the safety of the river. I am willing to use them as far as possible, but object to fighting with ‘paper’ men. Occasionally an exception occurs, which simply deceives. We want the best young white men of the land, and they should be inspired with the pride of freemen to fight for their county. If Mr. Lincoln or Stanton could walk through the camps of this army and hear the soldiers talk they would hear new ideas. I have had the question put to me often: ‘is not a negro as good as a white man to stop a ballot?’ Yes, and a sand bag is better; but can a negro do our skirmishing and picket duty? Can they improvise roads, bridges, sorties, flank movements, &c., like the white man? I say no. Soldiers must and do many things without orders from their own sense, as in sentinels. Negroes are not equal to this. I have gone steadily, firmly, and confidently along, and I could not have done it with black troops, but with my old troops I have never felt a waver of doubt, and that very confidence begets success… .” Source: U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (originally printed 1891, reprinted by The National Historical Society, 1971), Part 5, Vol. 38, pp. 792-793.

Image of Sherman Decided to Halt in Atlanta Union Pickets in Atlanta
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Image of Sherman Decided to Halt in Atlanta Railroad Depot, Atlanta, 1864
Library of Congress
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Image of Sherman Decided to Halt in Atlanta Union Soldiers on Boxcars
Library of Congress
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