The Burning of Atlanta…and Why “Sherman” Became an Epithet in the South

Today in History, November 12, 1864:

The burning of Atlanta.

Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and his army had taken Atlanta in September, and subsequently ordered the citizenry to evacuate the city. That order set off a firestorm of complaints and criticism from Confederate military and civilian leaders. Sherman stuck to his guns…the South could expend the resources to care for and secure their populace. Sherman’s supply lines stretched from Nashville, TN and were constantly threatened by Confederate army raids, so he knew he could not hold Atlanta for long.

But then, he didn’t want to. He stayed in Atlanta long enough to rest and build up supplies. On today’s date in 1864 he ordered the industrial district and anything that might prove useful to the enemy burned. The fires spread and eventually as much as 40% of the city went up in flames.

Sherman sent Gen. Thomas back towards Nashville to tie up the Confederate Army of the Tennessee led by Gen. John Bell Hood.

He then took his army east across Georgia, laying waste to the countryside in the same fashion that he had destroyed the city of Atlanta. This horrified the South, and Sherman’s acts are still points of contention. However if you read Sherman’s thoughts on his decisions, he was merely trying to end the war more quickly by reverting back to ancient principles of war. From times when armies fed themselves and armed themselves by living off of the land they were currently in. Sherman and his army took what they needed and destroyed what was left in order to deny the enemy its use. This was also intended to bring the war to the doorstep of the Southern citizens in the hope that they would press for the termination of hostilities.

By Christmas he would be able to send a telegram to President Lincoln: “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.”

10 thoughts on “The Burning of Atlanta…and Why “Sherman” Became an Epithet in the South

      1. I think Grant and Sherman had two very different wars to fight, as the battles in the west and east differed considerably in style and strategy. So the generals commanding each had to approach it in a completely different way. I’m glad I wasn’t around at the time and didn’t have to make any of those decisions.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I also think Grant, having a considerable amount of experience in the west before he took over in the Potomac, brought some of that “hard knock” western style of fighting to the east and it ended up changing warfare entire in a lot of ways! Ah! So many details. I could loiter up your blog but good with my thoughts haha. I’ll spare you that! Always enjoy your posts!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I could talk about this subject for hours too. I think they had become kindred spirits after their work together in the West. Thats why Sherman was confident enough to cut loose and make decisions when they couldn’t talk. You’re certainly right about Grant having to change tactics when he went East. Thank you for the conversation!

        Liked by 1 person

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