Actual Factual Georgia

Q: Last week you mentioned that Atlanta surrendered to Gen. William Sherman on Sept. 2, 1864. Can you provide any details on that?

A: Atlanta’s demise was imminent. The city was practically encircled by Union troops and all the railroads that supplied Atlanta had been cut after the Battle of Jonesboro.

Confederate Gen. John B. Hood’s army could no longer be supplied, so he slipped out of his fortifications on Sept. 1 and blew up his ammunition train, a massive chain of explosions that devastated the area around the Georgia Railroad, near Oakland Cemetery. Fires and flying debris leveled Atlanta’s first rolling mill and gutted houses and businesses about a quarter mile in every direction, Atlanta historian Franklin Garrett wrote.

Historian Stephen Davis, who wrote “What the Yankees Did to Us: Sherman’s Bombardment and Wrecking of Atlanta,” said the burning of Atlanta is overused. Parts of Atlanta were consumed by fire, but more destruction had come from the siege and bombardment of the city that had lasted from July 20-Aug. 25. And more devastation would occur during the Federal occupation that would last until Nov. 16, 1864.

But back to the surrender.

Gen. William T. Sherman and his Union army had heard the explosions, but didn’t know if the Confederate Army was still in its breastworks, so he ordered his generals to hang tight until he had more info. Atlanta Mayor James Calhoun wasn’t sitting still. He decided to surrender the city, but didn’t know Sherman’s whereabouts – he was south of the city – and headed toward the Union positions beyond Marietta Street. His group ran into Federal troops, who told Calhoun that Sherman was more than 20 miles away.

So the mayor surrendered to the Union general on the scene, writing this note: “The fortune of war has placed Atlanta in your hands. As mayor of the city I ask protection to non-combatants and private property.”

Calhoun is buried in Oakland Cemetery and a historical marker is at the intersection of Marietta Street and Northside Drive, commemorating the event that happened 150 years ago today.

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