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Sep. 2: "Atlanta is ours, and fairly won."

Union forces captured Atlanta on Sep. 2, 1864.
Union forces captured Atlanta on Sep. 2, 1864.
Image by Zik Armstrong

Here’s what happened.

General William Tecumseh Sherman wrote those words to mark the end of the Atlanta Campaign in the USA’s Civil War on September 2, 1864. A delegation of city leaders rode out to meet the Union army and formally surrendered the city.

Here’s why it matters.

Following Union victory at Chattanooga, Tennessee in November 1863, General Ulysses S. Grant assigned to Sherman the task of capturing Atlanta, a major rail transportation hub for the Confederacy. Confederate General Joseph Eggleston Johnston defended the path to the city.

Sherman only launched a direct assault against Johnston once-- at Kennesaw Mountain. Instead, his army marched south beyond Confederate lines. The outflanking strategy forced Johnston to follow and set up defensive positions closer to Atlanta. Those continual “retreats” so frustrated Confederate President Jefferson Davis that he relieved Johnston of command.

General John Bell Hood attacked more aggressively, but also failed to counter Sherman’s flanking strategy. As a result, Atlanta’s last defense actually took place south of the city. On August 31, the Confederates were forced out of Jonesboro. On September 1, Hood’s troops evacuated from the city.

Here’s an interesting fact!

In the letter of surrender, Atlanta Mayor James Calhoun stated: “The fortune of war has placed Atlanta in your hands. As mayor of the city I ask protection of non-combatants and private property.” But that night, as he looked out the windows of his new headquarters, Sherman observed that Hood’s troops had burned everything they could not take with them.