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.”

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Today in History, November 12: 1954 –

Ellis Island in New York Harbor, which had seen millions of legal immigrants processed through since it’s opening in 1892, closes for good. It had been used continuously to process immigrants, and also as a military hospital and a facility to process illegal immigrants out.

A few of those that claimed America as their home via Ellis that you may know (according to the National Park Service, which now manages the Island)…Isaac Asimov (science fiction author extraordinaire), Charles Atlas (fitness), Irving Berlin (White Christmas and much more), Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life and more), Claudette Colbert (silent film actress), Max Factor (cosmetics magnate), Samuel Goldwyn (Hollywood mogul), Bob Hope (Mr. USO and decades of acting), Al Jolson (actor), Meyer Lansky (gangster), Bela Lugosi (the original scary actor), HYMAN G. RICKOVER (pioneer of our nuclear Navy), Edward G. Robinson (actor), KNUTE ROCKNE (football hero when it meant something), Igor Sikorsky (helicopter pioneer), Lee Strasberg (actor), Baron Von Trapp (The Sound of Music)….so much history. Oh, and of course….Vito Corleone….