Civil War: Atlanta Home Front
After the outbreak of war in spring 1861, Atlantans volunteered and formed the bulk of the twelve companies of infantry from Georgia. Casualties soon occurred. The city's two main newspapers, the Intelligencer and the Southern Confederacy, honored nearly a dozen Atlantans who had been killed at the First Battle of Manassas, Virginia, on July 21. Soldiers' deaths left some families destitute; fund-raising groups formed to aid them, and physicians offered free care.
With the Confederate loss of middle Tennessee in early 1862, Atlanta became the South's military medical center. The Atlanta Medical College (later Emory University School of Medicine), which had already suspended classes, became a hospital, as did hotels and municipal buildings. Construction of a big hospital complex on the city fairgrounds eventually relieved the crowding of sick and wounded soldiers downtown. The railroad passenger depot in the center of town served as a busy receiving and distributing point for Southern servicemen. A convalescent camp was established in the northwest suburbs, near the home of Ephraim Ponder. The city cemetery, then twenty-five acres (today known as Oakland Cemetery and much larger), also had to be expanded; some 632 soldiers were buried during 1862 alone.
Advances of Union forces in Tennessee and Mississippi made Atlanta a city of refugees. Its population was estimated at 17,000 in mid-1862 and 20,000 a year later. Hotels and boardinghouses were overwhelmed as newcomers took over vacant lots and train cars. So many strangers milled about that the city council put up Atlanta's first street signs in May 1863.
As a key railroad hub, Atlanta became an important military supply center.
The government also set up its own operations, such as the arsenal built at the racetrack outside the city's western limits; it produced percussion caps and artillery and small-arms ammunition, probably as many as 75,000 rounds per day by August 1862. In 1863-64 the Atlanta Arsenal employed nearly 5,500 men and women. In spring 1863 the Confederacy's Quartermaster Department had some 3,000 women in the city working as seamstresses and turning out thousands of wool jackets, pants, and cotton shirts. A government shoe factory produced 500 pairs a day, when leather supplies permitted. Bakeries and meatpacking plants made Atlanta a major army commissary as well.
All these valuable shops and warehouses made Atlantans suspicious of spies and secret Union incendiaries in their midst. Martial law was declared for only a month in August 1862, but citizens suspected of having Union sympathies were always threatened with arrest. In the spring of 1863, when Union cavalry raided close to Rome (sixty miles northwest of Atlanta), Atlanta mayor James M. Calhoun and the city council called upon all able men to form volunteer militia companies. Policemen, firemen, railroaders, and ordnance workers all formed companies, ready for the next Union approach.
The city fathers resolved on May 22, 1863, that longtime Atlantan Lemuel P. Grant, captain of the Confederacy's Engineer Bureau and senior engineer with headquarters in the city,
Local Response to Sherman's Attack
The approach of Sherman's armies threw Atlantans into alarm. Newspaper editors urged calmness and chastised gloomy "croakers" who began to predict the city's fall.
The Confederate government's replacement of Johnston with General John Bell Hood did little to bring calm. On July 20 the jarring sounds of battle at Peachtree Creek mixed with that of the first Union shells falling into the city—Sherman had ordered a bombardment of the downtown area to pressure Hood into evacuation.
From a population of about 22,000 in the spring of 1864, probably 3,000 civilians remained in the city when the Confederate army was forced out of Atlanta on September 1. Days later, Sherman ordered almost all noncombatants to leave town. With their exodus, Atlanta's significance as a Confederate military and industrial hub dissolved.
Barry L. Brown and Gordon R. Elwell, Crossroads of Conflict: A Guide to Civil War Sites in Georgia (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010).
Sarah Conley Clayton, Requiem for a Lost City: A Memoir of Civil War Atlanta and the Old South, ed. Robert Scott Davis Jr. (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1999).
Stephen Davis, Atlanta Will Fall: Sherman, Joe Johnston, and the Yankee Heavy Battalions, American Crisis Series, no. 3 (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 2001).
Thomas G. Dyer, Secret Yankees: The Union Circle in Confederate Atlanta (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999).
Robert Gibbons, "Life at the Crossroads of the Confederacy: Atlanta, 1861-1865," Atlanta Historical Journal 23 (summer 1979): 11-72.
A. A. Hoehling, Last Train from Atlanta (New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1958).
Ralph Benjamin Singer Jr., "Confederate Atlanta" (Ph.D. diss., University of Georgia, 1973).
David Williams, Bitterly Divided: The South's Inner Civil War (New York: New Press, 2008; distributed by W. W. Norton).
Stephen Davis, Marietta
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