The Surrender of Atlanta

The Confederate forces suffered severe defeats and high casualties at Peachtree Creek, The Battle of Atlanta, The Battle of Ezra Church and The Battle of Jonesboro. All these battles were fought over possession of the railroads. With their lifeline of supplies now cut off the Confederate forces began to withdraw from Atlanta to escape being made prisoners of the Union forces.

From Franklin Garretts Atlanta And Environs Vol. 1 describing the Surrender of Atlanta (pages 633-638):

September lst, in fact, found Atlanta almost in a state of anarchy. Many of the citizens were under the impression that the fight at Jonesboro was a Confederate victory, but their sanguine hopes were blasted by a few deserters who arrived during the day seeking hiding places in the houses of their friends. They told a different story.

Throughout the day troops were moving in every direction and unusual bustle and activity prevailed. The citizens noticed that they were no longer halted and made to show their papers on the streets. Crowds of strange Negroes also made their appearance, but they acted with great caution, and spent most of their time in cellars and houses abandoned by their owners. The citizens could not believe that the city was to be given up. Yet that was what was happening.

By 5 P.M. Hood's evacuation was under way. Commissary stores which could not be moved were distributed among the citizens of Atlanta. As noted, Hardee and Cleburne had retreated from Jonesboro to Lovejoy. Lee's corps, at the present intersection of Moreland Avenue and McDonough Boulevard, near what was then the Killis Brown farm, was ordered to halt for further orders. Some hours later Lee was ordered to retrace much of his march, this time going to Lovejoy's Station where he joined Hardee's corps.

General Hood, with his staff, departed the city for Lovejoy's via the McDonough Road, followed by the state militia under General Gustavus W. Smith and, finally, by Stewart's corps. Whenever the departing soldiers passed a garden, several men would rush through it, stripping it in a minute of every stalk of corn, and every green thing that could be eaten by man or beast. No one objected. All now knew that their brave defenders were leaving, to return no more in that role. As Hood's men marched through the darkness many of them sang Lorena, ballad of a lost love, which seemed to epitomize the melancholy heartbreak of defeat :

"We loved each other then, Lorena,

More than we ever dared to tell;

And what we might have been, Lorena,

Had but our lovings prosper'd well--

But then, 'tis past-the years are gone,

I'll not call up their shadowy forms;

I'll say to them, 'lost years, sleep on!

Sleep on! nor heed life's pelting storm."

By midnight of September 1st most of the troops had left the city. But a few cavalrymen lingered. They had a special assignment. Hood had no idea of leaving behind, in usable condition, ammunition and military stores for the use of his adversary.

Shortly after midnight the citizens who had remained in the city were startled by a series of violent explosions from down the Georgia Railroad opposite Oakland Cemetery and the rolling mill.

Hood's ammunition trains, consisting of seven locomotives and 81 loaded cars had been set afire to deny them to the Federals. As the flames reached each car, it exploded with a terrific din. Five hours were occupied in this work of demolition, which also included the rolling mill. Flames shot to a tremendous height and the exploding missiles scattered their red-hot fragments right and left. The earth trembled. Nearby houses rocked like cradles, while on every hand was heard the shattering of window glass and the fall of plastering and loose bricks. Hundreds of people flocked to high places and watched with breathless excitement the volcanic scene on the Georgia Railroad."'

Fortunately all the citizens in the vicinity of the explosions had been ordered to leave their houses before the work of blowing up the ammunition trains commenced. Every building, for a quarter of a mile around was either torn to pieces or perforated with hundreds of holes by shell fragments. A new day was dawning when the last car let loose, and the last Confederate cavalrymen galloped out McDonough Road (Capitol Avenue) to rejoin Hood's retreating army.""

Then, for the people of Atlanta, came the awful hours of waiting---waiting for the unknown. Men with wives and daughters stayed home, weapons at hand, ready for any emergency. The center of the city began to fill with the flotsam and jetsam of war-riffraff, stragglers and deserters; with Negroes delirious and confused over their strange sense of freedom, and with lean and haggard men and women of the lowest class plundering stores and vacant dwellings. They picked up buckets, tinware, canteens, pieces of furniture, old tents; anything lying around loose.

Such was the state of affairs on the morning of September 2, 1864, when Atlanta, worn out and shattered by the storm of war, lay stranded between two flags, under the protection of neither, abandoned by one, and with little hope of mercy from the other.

Yet in the midst of all this confusion, there was little drunkenness and no violence. Men forgot old quarrels and differences, and met in a friendly way. It was somewhat akin to the camaraderie of a group just set adrift in a lifeboat from a sinking ship. Those citizens of Union sympathies suddenly loomed into importance. Not a few of their Confederate neighbors sought them out and requested them to use their influence to secure the protection of their property. In no instance were such requests refused. The Union people were as uneasy as anyone else and showed a disposition to keep on the best possible terms with their fellow-townsmen.

As the early morning hours of Friday, September 2nd, slipped by with no sign of the enemy's approach, Mayor James M. Calhoun decided upon a course of action. The city had not been formally surrendered by Hood. Therefore, the mayor would take care of this detail himself. He held a conference with several members of council and other prominent men near the corner of Peachtree and Marietta streets. All the conferees were mounted on horses and included, besides Mayor Calhoun, Thomas G. W. Crusselle, William Markham, Thomas Kile, Julius A. Hayden and others. All knew a dangerous trip was ahead, and although none knew exactly where Sherman was, it was assumed he was camped a few miles out on the Marietta Road. This assumption was, of course, erroneous. Sherman was at or near Lovejoy's, but Slocum, with the 20th corps, was at the river guarding the Western & Atlantic R. R. bridge and other crossings of the Chattahoochee.

Sherman had, in fact, heard the explosions and seen the glare of the fires in Atlanta at 2 A.M., although he attributed the explosions to heavy firing and so wired General Thomas at 4 A.M., on the 2nd. At 8 P.M. of the same day he was still uncertain as to what had happened in the city, for he then telegraphed Thomas as follows:

"Until we hear from Atlanta the exact truth, I do not care about your pushing your men against breastworks. Destroy the railroad well up to your lines; keep skirmishers well up, and hold .our troops in hand for anything that may turn up. As soon as I know positively that our troops are in Atlanta I will determine what to do…"

General Slocum, at the river, considerably closer than the twenty-six miles that separated Sherman from the city, had also heard the explosions and seen the fire. He guessed correctly that Hood was evacuating Atlanta, and by daybreak had units of the 20th corps en route to town via the Mayson and Turner Ferry Road, now Bankhead Avenue. It was these troops that the Calhoun (surrender) party was to meet later.

The mayor's group, after a lively discussion as to the propriety of carrying firearms, in addition to the white flag of surrender, and which was settled in the negative, set forth out Marietta Street. This route led the party through that section of the city which had suffered most damage from the recent bombardment. Nearly every residence had been abandoned, and many of the houses were piles of splintered timbers. The street was badly tom up, and the riders, even in broad daylight often found it difficult to thread their way through the scattered debris. A few homes near the city limits were more or less intact including the brick residence of Lemuel Dean at the northwest comer of what is now Jones Avenue, and the J. G. W. Mills, Edwin Payne, and Felix Sowers' homes further out on the opposite side of Marietta Street. The emissaries of the surrender passed all of these; then the shot-riddled Ponder home. Soon the dismantled Confederate breastworks were reached, at Fort Hood opposite the present Bankhead Avenue. They were entirely deserted with the exception a few spiked cannon here and there.

Finally at a point beyond Fort Hood, where Curran Street now originates at Marietta Street, Mayor Calhoun and his contingent met a small body of Federal 20th Corps troops commanded by Captain H. M. Scott, of the 70th Indiana Volunteer Infantry.

Introducing himself and fellow citizens to the captain, the mayor inquired as to the whereabouts of General Sherman. Scott replied, "General Sherman is twenty miles from here, sir; down about Jonesboro. If you want to reach the commanding officer of this department, you will have to see General Slocum, at the bridge. He will shortly be in command in Atlanta. At this juncture a larger body of Federal soldiers advanced along the same road, and Scott introduced Calhoun to Colonel John Coburn, commanding the Second Brigade of Ward's Division. Colonel Coburn advised the Mayor to write a formal note embodying his desire to surrender the city, addressed to Brigadier-General William T. Ward, the nearest general officer. Taking a memorandum book from his pocket, Mayor Calhoun tore out a blank page and wrote thereon the following message:


 

Atlanta, Ga., September 2, 1864

Brigadier-General Ward,

Comdg. Third Division, Twentieth Corps:

Sir: The fortune of war has placed Atlanta in your hands. As mayor of the
city I ask
protection to non-combatants and private property.

JAMES M. CALHOUN,

Mayor of Atlanta


 

 

By noon the whole line of Marietta Street was blue with Union soldiers, and the citizens of Atlanta were hailing the conquerer with mixed emotions. Some, tired of the war, or now feeling free to express long concealed Union sentiments, greeted the Federals with a show of enthusiastic welcome; others took little pains to conceal the fact that they regarded the Northern host as "vandal invaders." Even the small boys of staunch Confederate families whistled "Dixie" and "The Bonnie Blue Flag," for the benefit of, but not to the amusement of Sherman's boys, who retorted, via brass bands, with loud renditions of "Yankee Doodle" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

The first troops to reach the center of the city were the Second Massachusetts Regiment, under command of Colonel William Cogswell. They constituted the Provost Guard, and occupied the City Hall, running the Stars and Stripes to the top of the flag staff-the first time the old flag had fluttered to the breeze in Atlanta since early 1861.

By the middle of the afternoon heavy army wagons were rolling in, wreathed in clouds of dust, and by sundown sutlers had their wares displayed in vacant stores and were doing a brisk trade. A news agent of Sherman's army took possession of the post-office and converted it into a news emporium, with well known newspapers and periodicals for sale. The Yankee sword rattled, unsheathed in Atlanta.

That evening General Slocum sent a telegram from Atlanta to Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War. It read:

"General Sherman has taken Atlanta. The Twentieth Corps occupies the city. The main army is on the Macon road, near East Point. A battle was fought near that point, in which General Sherman was successful. Particulars not known."

No emergency was of sufficient magnitude to separate Mr. Samuel P. Richards from his diary. On Thursday, September 1st, he recorded:

"This was a day of terror and a night of dread. About noon came the tidings of a severe fight on the Macon R.R. [Battle of Jonesboro] and that our forces were worsted and the city was to be evacuated at once. Then began a scramble among the inhabitants thereof to get away-others to procure supplies of food for their families. If there had been any doubt of the fact that Atlanta was about to be given up it would have been removed when we saw the depots of Government grain and food thrown open, and the contents distributed among the citizens free gratis, by the sackful and the cartload. The R.R. cars and engines were all run up to one place in order to be fired just as the army left. Five locomotives and 85 cars, Cousin Bill told me, were to be burned. . . . I went to the Macon depot with Mr. West and secured three sacks of meal. As we went down the Ammunition Train was fired, and for half an hour or more an incessant discharge was kept up that jarred the ground and broke the glass in the windows around. It was terrific to listen to and know the object…"

"Friday 2. About noon today the Yankees came in sure enough. A party of five or six came riding by our house. A committee of our citizens went out early and met Gen. Slocum and got his word that private property should be respected, upon which the city was surrendered to them and in they came. The Stars and Stripes were soon floating aloft over the city. The private houses were not molested by the soldiers, and I was therefore very much surprised when I went downtown to see armsful and baskets full of books and wallpaper going up the street in a continuous stream from our store. When I reached the store, the scene would have required the pencil of Hogarth to portray. Yankees, men, women, children and niggers were crowded into the store, each one scrambling to get something to carry away, regardless, apparently, whether it was anything they needed, and still more heedless of the fact that they were stealing! Such a state of utter confusion and disorder as presented itself to my eyes then, I little dreamed of two hours before when I left it all quiet and, as I thought, safe. The soldiers in their mad hunt for tobacco had probably broken open the door, and the rabble had then 'pitched in,' thinking it a 'free fight.' At first I was so dismayed that I almost resolved to let them finish it, but finally I got them out and stood guard until after dark when I left it to its chances until morning, as I was very sleepy. . "

"Sunday 4. It is strange to go about Atlanta now and see ward Yankee uniforms. The City Hall is headquarters for the Provost Guard. The enemy behave themselves pretty well except in the scramble for liquor, during which every store in town nearly was broken into yesterday. . . This afternoon three soldiers asked for dinner saying their rations had not come and they would pay for their dinner, so Sallie had some cooked for them. They belonged to Co. E 2nd Mass., Vols., but their chief spokesman was a Scotchman. They think McClellan will be next president as he has been nominated by the Chicago Convention.... Returning home [after church] we heard that another big fight at Jonesboro had resulted disastrously to the Confederates, and in confirmation of this we saw 1800 'rebel prisoners' marched into town. They filled the street from the [2nd] Baptist Church to Whitehall St. It was a sad sight but the Yankees cheered at it lustily of course."

On September 3rd Sherman, near Lovejoy's Station, telegraphed General Slocum, commander of the 20th Corps in Atlanta:

"Move all the stores forward from Allatoona and Marietta to Atlanta. Take possession of all good buildings for Government purposes, and see they are not used as quarters. Advise the people to quit now. There can be no trade or commerce now until the war is over. Let Union families go to the North with their effects, and secesh families move on. All cotton is tainted with treason, and no title in it will be respected. It must all go to Nashville as United States property, and pretended claimants man collect testimony for the pursuit of the proceeds of sale after they reach the U.S. Treasury in money.'

By the following day, September 4th, Sherman had decided not to pursue Hood south of Atlanta, and issued Special Field Orders No. 64, providing for the distribution of his troops. They read:


"The army having accomplished its undertaking in the complete reduction and occupation of Atlanta, will occupy the place and the country near it until a new campaign is planned in concert with the other grand armies of the United States…..


By September 7th the movements provided for in the above orders were completed, and on that day General Sherman established his headquarters in Atlanta for nearly two months, interrupted for some weeks in October and November.

For this purpose he selected one of the newest and finest homes in the city, that of John Neal, at the southwest corner of Washington and Mitchell streets. Mr. Neal (1796-1886) was a native of Warren County, Georgia, but as a young man became one of the earliest settlers of Pike County, establishing residence in its seat of justice, Zebulonco. Here he followed the occupations of planter and merchant, being for some years a partner of Samuel Mitchell, donor of the State Square in Atlanta. The Neal family moved to Atlanta in 1858, and almost immediately Mr. Neal acquired the Washington Street lot and began the erection of his $25,000 square two-and-a-half-story home, which was distinguished by a row of handsome Corinthian columns across the front and a stained glass cupola on top…

 

 

-"The Campaign for Atlanta"

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