Skip to main content

This September marks the 148th anniversary of the fall of the City of Atlanta to Union forces under the command of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman. This pivotal event likely insured the re-election of Pres. Abraham Lincoln, sounding the death knell for the Southern Confederacy and the institution of slavery. What follows is a snap shot of a little known aspect of Sherman's personality.

Perhaps no historical figure other than  Dr. Martin Luther King is more associated with the City of Atlanta than Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman. The traditional image of the grim visaged conqueror of Atlanta as the ultimate “hard war” soldier is as indelibly etched in the city’s memory as the flames that consumed her. A long limbed, rough hewn, sandy bearded warrior perched on a short legged horse leading his army of  “bummers” on a campaign  of devastation with a saber in one hand and a torch in the other.  Or as,  his letter to then Atlanta Mayor  James M. Calhoun  put it, while reaffirming his order that the city’s civilian population be evacuated prior to its destruction:

“ You might as well appeal against the thunder-storm as against these terrible hardships of war. They are inevitable, and the only way the people of Atlanta can hope once more to live in peace and quiet at home, is to stop the war, which can only be done by admitting that it began in error and is perpetuated in pride.”
Yet ,there is another side to Sherman. An aspect that events in Atlanta in that fateful July of 1864 throw into bold relief. A facet of the man’s humanity that hardly squares with his popular image as it has come down to us. It was the death of Gen. James Birdseye Mcpherson, for whom Fort McPherson is named, that opens this unexpected window into the interior life of the man who swore to “...make Georgia howl.”

 McPherson was by all accounts an attractive and dashing character.  Prior to Sherman’s descent on Georgia, McPherson had been given command of  the Union Army of the Tennessee. This army comprised one of two wings of of Sherman’s invading host  and was crucial to the flanking movements which famously drove the Confederate Army out of  North Georgia and into the defensive works of the City.  That the youthful , curly bearded, West Point honor graduate should be given such a command was a mark of both Sherman’s trust and personal affection. Having been Commandant of a Southern military academy prior to the war,  the romantic flair and dash of military youth held a special place in Sherman’s heart.

 McPherson had such qualities in spades and was not only Sherman’s favorite but highly popular with the army overall. Engaged to Emily Hoffman, the daughter of a Confederate sympathizing Baltimore clan, McPherson had postponed their wedding in the Winter of 1864 at Sherman’s behest in order to join the advance on Atlanta. In some respects McPherson was the antithesis of  Sherman, having once remarked that if being a soldier required him to forsake the claims of humanity  “then I do not want to be a soldier.” As it turned out, he was to be spared the necessity of testing his idealism against  such harsh realities as the burning of Atlanta and the march to the sea.

 Following the Battle of Peachtree Creek , a bloody Confederate defeat, Sherman once again ordered McPherson to make a wide flanking move from the east through Decatur. At noon  on July  22,1864, McPherson was finishing his lunch at what is now the Candler Park Marta station when a storm of rifle fire was heard towards the South West. Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood had launched a combined assault on the Army of the Tennessee while it was separated from Sherman’s main force. The battle of Atlanta had begun.

 Wasting no time McPherson lept into the saddle and galloped off towards the sound of the guns. Such youthful impetuosity was to cost him dear. Riding ahead of his staff escort, McPherson was abruptly confronted by rebel skirmishers who demanded his surrender. Refusing to be cowed, the Union General wheeled his horse in an attempt to escape. The Confederate riflemen shot him out of his saddle and into history. The first intimation of his death was carried to his staff in the form of his terrified, riderless steed as it came crashing back through the thickly wooded undergrowth.

 With McPherson dead, the battle rolled on. Two Corps of rebel troops smashed into the Federal line in the vicinity of the Inman Park Marta station, at one point actually breaking through before being driven off  by  massed artillery under the direction of Sherman himself. The General had been observing the fight from Logans Hill, currently the site of the Carter Center. This is the engagement that is portrayed in Grant Park’s Cyclorama.

 McPherson’s body was recovered. It was taken to Sherman’s Headquarters where the hard-bitten General wept uncontrollably at the sight. It’s reported that his tears were so copious that they dripped from his grizzled whiskers. When word of  McPherson’s death reached his fiancee in Baltimore, it was passed to her by her mother with the comment “Here at last is some good news.” Emily responded by withdrawing to  her room, not to emerge or to see any of her family for an entire year.

 In the days after, Sherman took thought of Emily and wrote to her a remarkable letter in which he laid bare the depth of his grief in commiseration with her own.  He began by writing:
 

“  I yield to none on Earth but yourself the right to excel me in lamentations for our Dead Hero. Better the Bride of McPherson dead, than the wife of the richest Merchant of Baltimore.”

 Describing his long friendship with McPherson and the circumstances of his death,  he remarked:
“I see him now, So handsome, so smiling, on his fine black horse, booted & spurred, with his easy seat, the impersonation of the Gallant Knight.”
He closed by glorifying his friend and denouncing those he saw as responsible for the war:
“The lives of a thousand men such as Davis and Yancey and Toombs and Floyd and Buckner and Greeley and Lovejoy could not atone for that of McPherson. But it is in this world some men by falsehood and agitation raise the storm which falls upon the honorable and young who become involved in its Circles.

 Though the cannon booms now, and the angry rattle of musketry tells me that I also will likely pay the same penalty yet while Life lasts I will delight in the Memory of that bright particular star which has gone before to prepare the way for us more hardened sinners who must struggle on to the End.”

Something bright had indeed gone out of Sherman’s world and perhaps out of the General himself. From this point forward Sherman’s war would be the “...grim, remorseless,  revolutionary struggle...” that President Lincoln had earlier feared. It would begin in the ashes of Atlanta, cut a swath of destruction through the heart of Georgia and lead on through the ruins of Columbia, South Carolina to ultimate victory.
EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Excellent diary. Thanks. n/t (6+ / 0-)

    Ceterum censeo Factionem Republicanam esse delendam.

    by journeyman on Sat Sep 15, 2012 at 04:08:51 PM PDT

  •  Sherman (5+ / 0-)

    McPherson was the favorite of many of the Union Army in the Western Theater, rising from a staff engineer on Halleck's staff to commander of the Army of the Tennessee, succeeding Grant and Sherman. While Sherman was a brilliant strategist, he was a racist through and through as was demonstrated many times during the Civil War and especially during the Indian Wars.

  •  What gets me about Sherman's March is that (8+ / 0-)

    the South howls and laments its effects, yet when the US uses the same tactics on another country they (the South) are backslapping each other on how great the US is.

    I think Sherman did the right thing, all in the effort to end the war sooner than later.  Yeah, he was racist and made no apologies for it either.  Yet, if I'm not mistaken, the freed slaves still had high regards for him.  Sherman took the 'nicities' out of warfare and made sure everyone felt the pain.  When 'everyone' feels the pain of war personally, the less likely they are to support the action.  For this reason, I think that any politician that votes for war should have at least one of their children serving in the said war (by choice or by force, either way suits me).

    My paternal grandfather's paternal grandfather was a member of the 111th Illinois Regiment.  He served in the US Army from the very start of Sherman's March to the bitter end in Virgina (I can never spell the name...).  He was wounded twice during the campaign.  We have records of him and guardians of his children petitioning the Federal gov't for assistance later in life due to complications/issues related to those injuries.

  •  Sherman planned the march to Atlanta (6+ / 0-)

    after the battles of Chattanooga.  There is a plaque near the Tennessee River at the Tennessee Aquarium remembering the horrible war, the South felt losing Chattanooga was like losing a rook and Atlanta was the Queen.  

    Sherman, Thomas, Grant and Rosencrans all lived near the Walnut Street bridge (which first began as bridge under Sherman) and 3rd Street in downtown Chattanooga.  The home where U.S. Grant lived was torn down and replaced with pricey condominiums.  There is a plaque in his honor.  All the Generals paid our locals rent for the use of their homes during the Siege of Chattanooga.  There is a plaque in North Chattanooga commemorating "Sherman's Hideout"  - I get angry every time I see it, it is a backhanded compliment.  Sherman was a brave man, everyone feared him.

    My great, great grandfather fought under General Thomas with Indiana's 17th Army.   He fought at Chickamauga, then retreated into Chattanooga where the town was surrounded by the rebs for nearly 2 months.  In the Spring, they marched to Kennesaw Mountain after that, they went  back up to Nashville.  He loved General Thomas.

    By the way, General Hood's leg was amputated after an injury at Chickamauga.  He had already been severely wounded in the shoulder at Gettysburg months earliers.  His leg is buried in Tunnel Hill, Ga or so say the locals.  He would go to Atlanta and fight, then would go up to Nashville and things fell apart for his Army.  

  •  Sherman was the best (7+ / 0-)

    tactical commander in the Civil War.  His idea was to make war on the land, to "make Georgia howl", but spare the soldiers by avoiding direct attacks.  His strategy was to repeatedly flank the Confederate Army, forcing them to retreat as he threatened their supply lines, and eventually he took Atlanta.  By burning the countryside he made war unsustainable for the South and broke their will to fight, but for a fight that long and sustained, the total number of casualties was not that great.  When he arrived in Savannah the city welcomed his and he spared the city from destruction, but as he later drove north he was ruthless in burning South Carolina because that was the first state to secede from the nation and the most ardent state in the Confederate cause.  

    Grant was a butcher as a general.  He attacked strong Confederate defenses and lost tremendous numbers of men.  He wore down the Confederate army, which couldn't match casualties, but at terrible cost.   Lee was a great general on the attack, but the South needed a defensive general because they were fewer in numbers and could not fight a war of attrition.   Sherman was hated by the South for his success and the destruction he wrought, but he did more than any other general to bring the war to a close.

    In many ways Sherman was far ahead of his times in terms of the tactics of war.   50 years later the allies in WW1 could have used a general with his understanding of war.  That would have spared many men in the carnage of that bloody war.  

    God is innocent: Noah built on a flood plain.

    by alphorn on Sat Sep 15, 2012 at 05:52:18 PM PDT

    •  I disagree with you about Grant (6+ / 0-)

      In the west he had followed a strategy of mobility much the same as Sherman did in Georgia. He besieged Vicksburg and captured an entire Confederate army, just as he had done earlier at Fort Donaldson. He broke the Rebel encirclement of Chattanooga and sent the Confederates in headlong retreat into Georgia, setting the stage for Sherman's campaign. He accomplished all of this without sustaining massive losses.

      His original plan for the overland campaign against Lee wasn't to engage in a slugging match. Rather, he had intended for three union armies to advance on Lee from three separate directions; from the Shenandoah in the West, his own from the North and Butler's from the Peninsula in the South. This plan came apart when the armies in the West and South were stymied, forcing him to confront Lee on his own. Even then he continually attempted to flank Lee until he forced him into the siege works around Richmond.

      Given that he was under direct orders from Lincoln to consider the destruction of the Army of Northern Virginia as his strategic objective, rather than the capture of any geographic point, it's difficult to see how he could have avoided a war attrition.

      Nothing human is alien to me.

      by WB Reeves on Sat Sep 15, 2012 at 06:22:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  In absolute terms of casualties, (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        WB Reeves, Sandy on Signal, kaliope

        Grant's casulty rate averaged around 9%, while Lee's averaged about 20%.  If you were a soldier in Lee's army you had a one in five chance of getting shot everytime there was a battle.

      •  Fair enough. Grant was the general Lincoln wanted (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        WB Reeves, nchristine

        and needed.  When Grant was criticized for the huge number of Union casualties, Lincoln said "I can't spare this man, he fights."   The Union Army was much larger, and the Union could win a war of attrition.   In this sense, Grant was the perfect general for the North to fight Lee.   The Unions best generals (Grant Included) came out of the West, and the Confederacy was beaten from West to East.  

        I still maintain that Sherman was a better general; Sherman was tactically superior.  Sherman's march to the sea was brilliant, and unprecedented in that he cut his army off from his supply lines.  His army lived off the land as he cut a swath of destruction through the heartland of the South, and the South finally began to understand that it was beaten.  

        In the comment below, I think that the different size of the two armies, Lee's and Grant's, make such comparisons moot.  Lee became a better general in the latter part of the war, when it was lost and he was forced to fight in defense.  

        The trench warfare in the east presaged the ugly fighting in WW1.  The close fighting in the east and the weapons and the tactics of the time gave the advantage to the defending armies.

        This is an interesting diary.  I enjoyed the many contributions.

        God is innocent: Noah built on a flood plain.

        by alphorn on Sat Sep 15, 2012 at 09:07:36 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  My family history is from Milledgeville, Georgia. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          WB Reeves

          We have an old family Bible from that time.  There is a sad story written by an ancestor of mine, telling how her husband went out to the well in the front yard of their house in Milledgeville.  There was a curfew at the time; the Union Army was in control of the city.  She writes that Sherman's men shot her husband in front of their house and he died that night.  

          God is innocent: Noah built on a flood plain.

          by alphorn on Sat Sep 15, 2012 at 09:14:07 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I'm a Georgian as well (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            alphorn

            One Great Grandfather served with Lee from Second Manassas to Appomattox. Another enlisted in the Cherokee Artillery in Dalton after Missionary Ridge and served under Johnston and Hood. My mother used to tell the story about how he stumbled and fell during the withdrawal from Kennesaw Mountain and didn't stop rolling until he reached the Chattahoochee.

            We were fortunate that they both survived, otherwise there wouldn't be anyone to tell the tale.

            I'm sorry to hear about your ancestor. It was a hard war.  

            Nothing human is alien to me.

            by WB Reeves on Sat Sep 15, 2012 at 09:41:35 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  The other side of my family is from Missouri, (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              WB Reeves

              not far from where Grant had a farm south of St. Louis.  Your points are all well made, and Grant was a fine general, particularly in the early part of the war in the west.  My butcher comment was less in judgement of Grant's generalship than an assessment of the close fighting that was characteristic of the eastern war.   Both armies had capital cities to defend and that limited movement and dictated direct attacks on entrenched positions.  If Grant was a butcher he was the butcher that Lincoln needed to grind out the war in the east.

              One of my relatives was James Johnston Pettigrew, who led the North Carolina regiments in what became known as Pickett's charge at Gettysburg.  There were more North Carolinans in that charge than Virginians, and the North Carolinans, at least a few of them, actually made it to the Union lines before they were thrown back.   Pettigrew was injured in the charge, and killed a few days later covering Lee's retreat by men of George Armstrong Custer's Union cavalry.

              God is innocent: Noah built on a flood plain.

              by alphorn on Sun Sep 16, 2012 at 04:06:12 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

        •  I won't dispute your estimate of Sherman (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          alphorn

          However, Grant prefigured the March to the Sea on a smaller scale. In order to move against Vicksburg, he crossed to east bank of the Mississippi river south of the city. Cutting loose from his lines of supply, he marched deep into rebel territory to capture Jackson before turning to assault Vicksburg from the East. He defeated every rebel force sent against him, including the Confederate army commanded by Pemberton at Champions Hill.

          While not as monumental as Sherman's exploit, it was the first time that Union Army had attempted such an audacious and risky move. Of course Sherman was serving under Grant at the time.

          Nothing human is alien to me.

          by WB Reeves on Sat Sep 15, 2012 at 10:02:47 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I get tired of the "good-ole-boys" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Alexandra Lynch, JayRaye

    saying the South will rise again and all that clap-trap. They wanted out of the Union, we shouldn't have let them back in so easily. I don't know what we should have done, but we should have destroyed all of their stupid battle flags at least, and made it a crime to wave one.

  •  Every time I drive through Sherman County, OR (4+ / 0-)

    which was named for General Sherman, I think of him.

    The Civil War dragged on and was obliterating an entire generation of men. What Sherman did may be seen as draconian. But I always wonder, as I drive, what would have happened if he simply stuck to conventional warfare.

    American history would have been different, and not for the better.

    © grover


    So if you get hit by a bus tonight, would you be satisfied with how you spent today, your last day on earth? Live like tomorrow is never guaranteed, because it's not. -- Me.

    by grover on Sat Sep 15, 2012 at 06:28:18 PM PDT

  •  From MN & now live in Texas. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    WB Reeves, Sandy on Signal

    One great great grandfather fot for the union from IL then moved to MN.

    Another fot with the MN 7th.

    And two of my great grandfather's oldest brothers died in the Civil War: one with the MN 1st at Gettysburg & one at Nashville (also with MN 7th if memory serves.) Our great great grandaparents from that line had five children & lost two to the Civil War. That family was fervently abolitionist (The father's first & middle name: Lorenzo Dow) & the boys joined up right away. One was  a student at Hamline U & practically the entire student body joined up. The school had to close down for awhile.

    I know some very elderly ladies here in Texas who love to go to re-enactments. I told them, "Fine, the south can keep on fighting the civil war, doesn't bother me. So long as they keep losing it."

    WE NEVER FORGET Our Labor Martyrs: a project to honor the men, women and children who lost their lives in Freedom's Cause. For May: Martyrs of the San Diego Free Speech Fight, Spring 1912.

    by JayRaye on Sat Sep 15, 2012 at 07:48:06 PM PDT

    •  they like the dresses and the pagentry and dancing (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Sandy on Signal

      that's all there is to it for them.

      When you come to find how essential the comfort of a well-kept home is to the bodily strength and good conditions, to a sound mind and spirit, and useful days, you will reverence the good housekeeper as I do above artist or poet, beauty or genius.

      by Alexandra Lynch on Sat Sep 15, 2012 at 10:42:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I have to disagree with you here. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        WB Reeves

        I know these women personally, so I know why they love the confederacy so much.  It isn't only theory to me.

        They love the age when anglos ruled and people of color knew their place. They would like to go back to the days of their youth when Texas practiced segregation and Spanish was forbidden in the schools.

        They also deny that chattel slavery had anything to do with the Civil War.

        WE NEVER FORGET Our Labor Martyrs: a project to honor the men, women and children who lost their lives in Freedom's Cause. For May: Martyrs of the San Diego Free Speech Fight, Spring 1912.

        by JayRaye on Sun Sep 16, 2012 at 07:01:59 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I have book to recommend (0+ / 0-)

    there are several in the series, including Atlanta.   This one focuses on Chattanooga during the late summer to the winter of 1863.

    It is called Echoes of Battle: The Struggle for Chattanooga.  The book is a collection of letters, diaries, photos and articles from people who were there during the time.   Many are first hand accounts from soldiers.  

    Some of the recollections I enjoyed were how the soldiers traded goods across picket lines.  Another one was a two year old baby girl wandered out from behind the CSA's picket to a dangerous zone.  The Feds picked her up gave her sugar and love, many men cried for they missed their families.  Finally, a white flag went up and they brought the little girl safely to her uncle who had been given to her by the girl's father to take back home.  The uncle cried when he got the child back and said he could not ever shoot them.  

    There are lots of good stories relating to the cuts to nearly nothing in the rations - a piece of sausage, a saltine and a candle for the day, etc...  The soldiers will make light of it when the candle gets removed from the rations, by wondering "how they are suppose to eat all this without a candle?"

    Also, loved the Rebs accounts of what happened during the opening of the cracker line.  Longstreet should have known this would happen and had more reinforcement.  

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site