At the Civil War’s outset, few could have predicted that Atlanta would play such a pivotal part in the conflict’s outcome. A small town when the war began, Atlanta grew in importance thanks to its factories and railroad hub, doubling in population by 1864. But even as General William T. Sherman moved into Georgia that spring, his objective wasn’t the town near the train tracks, but rather the tracks themselves—and the vital supplies they carried to the Confederacy. All spring, Sherman pursued the Rebel army through the hills of Tennessee and North Georgia. In late June, Union forces faced off against General Joseph Johnston at Kennesaw Mountain, a bloody skirmish that left Sherman scrambling for new tactics. As both armies maneuvered toward Atlanta, some long-timers fled, but were replaced by newcomers—refugees from rural areas where subsistence turned to starvation.
As Union spy J.C. Moore reported in early July, the city was in turmoil. The coming months would bring battles, siege, bombardment, destruction, and—finally—rebuilding.
This article originally appeared in our July 2014 issue under the headline, “Atlanta in War.”