In the North, political opposition to President Abraham Lincoln continued to grow, and few thought he would be reelected in the fall. Confederate forces believed that if they could hold out until November, and the election of a new president, a negotiated peace might be possible.
Needing a major military victory to regain popular support for the war effort, Lincoln appointed the brilliant and aggressive Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to command all Union armies, including the Army of the Potomac in Richmond, Virginia. Grant, in turn placed his closest friend and best corps commander, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, in command of three combined armies in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the gateway to the Deep South, and ordered him to advance on Atlanta.
During the spring and summer of 1864, Sherman’s forces would fight their way south through northwest Georgia and capture the city of Atlanta, virtually ensuring Lincoln’s reelection. Following the torching of the city, Sherman would lead his armies on the March to the Sea, wreaking widespread destruction through the heart of Georgia and devastating the Confederacy’s ability to make war. His “total war” strategy would bring the South to its knees and hasten the end of the long and bloody conflict.
Road Trips Through Time
Georgia Civil War Heritage Trails invite visitors to follow in the footsteps of Union and Confederate soldiers on drives along the roads traveled by the armies. In addition to providing information on major battles and military maneuvers, interpretive markers along the way share stories about the roles of women, African Americans, hospitals, churches and railroads in the war and link the trails to national and state parks, museums and other historic attractions along the routes. Brochures on the Atlanta Campaign Heritage Trail and the March to the Sea Heritage Trail, as well as videos, music and more, are available on the Civil War Heritage Trails site.
The Atlanta Campaign Part 1
In early May 1864, Sherman began a major offensive to capture the city of Atlanta and cut vital Confederate supply lines. Over the course of two months, his 110,000-man force pursued the Confederate army under the command of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston from its winter camp in Dalton to Kennesaw Mountain, some twenty miles northwest of Atlanta. While the armies clashed in a number of battles that spring, none proved decisive. Though only half the size of the Union force, the Confederate army was able to parry Union thrusts and escape destruction; however, it could not stop Sherman’s advance, and in early July, with the Union army approaching Atlanta’s outer suburbs, Confederate President Jefferson Davis relieved Johnston of command.
Significant Sites & Engaging Attractions
Atlanta Campaign Pavilions
The Works Project Administration erected this series of five roadside interpretive parks along Highway 41 in the 1930s. Atlanta Campaign engagements are recounted through historical markers, plaques and steel topographic maps at pavilions in Ringgold, Dalton, Resaca, Cassville and Dallas.
This challenging hiking trail ascends Rocky Face Mountain, site of the first battle of the Atlanta Campaign on May 8–10. At the trail’s end lies the grave of Confederate volunteer George Disney. In 1912, the grave was discovered by a Dalton Boy Scout troop, which replaced the wooden marker with the marble one seen today.
Rose Lawn Museum
A beautifully restored Victorian mansion in Cartersville, Rose Lawn houses a United Daughters of the Confederacy Civil War collection. The house sits across the street from the antebellum First Baptist Church, which received $4,000 from the U.S. government in 1904 in restitution for damages inflicted by Union soldiers in 1864.
Union Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson spent the night of May 18 in the Adairsville home of Savannah-based cotton merchant Godfrey Barnsley. Though his troops disobeyed orders and looted the house, they left it intact. (The roof was ripped away by a 1904 tornado.) The beautiful ruins form the centerpiece of the upscale Barnsley Resort, which operates on the estate grounds today.
Pickett’s Mill Battlefield State Historic Site
Pickett’s Mill is one of the best-preserved Civil War battlefields in the nation. Visitors can travel roads used by Union and Confederate troops, see the earthworks they constructed and walk through the ravine where hundreds died in fighting on May 27.
Women and the War Effort
Roswell was a thriving New England–style mill town whose “Roswell Gray” fabric was used for Confederate uniforms and tents, and an array of products that supported the Southern war effort. On July 5, Union cavalry in search of a crossing point on the Chattahoochee River arrived in Roswell and discovered three mills in full operation run by a largely female workforce. Four hundred women were arrested for treason and, along with their dependent children, deported by train to Indiana. Demonstrative of Sherman’s philosophy of “total war,” the tragic story can be followed through interpretive markers, a monument and mill ruins.
The Gibraltar of Georgia
On the morning of June 27, Sherman’s troops bombarded Confederate forces entrenched astride Kennesaw Mountain. The rough terrain, fortifications and heavy fire repulsed the Union effort to storm the mountain and earned it the moniker “the Gibraltar of Georgia.” In a matter of hours, the Union suffered 3,000 casualties, while the Confederates lost 800, making the day one of the bloodiest in the campaign. Though a tactical Union defeat, the battle only served to slow Sherman’s advance on Atlanta.
Visitors to Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park will discover a self-guided auto tour and a 16-mile network of trails through surroundings that appear much as they did to the soldiers. Also recommending a visit are an engaging visitors center, knowledgeable rangers and a variety of interpretive programs.
The Atlanta Campaign Part 2
On July 17, President Davis placed one of the Confederacy’s most aggressive generals, John Bell Hood, in command of the armies defending Atlanta. In the coming days, Hood went on the offensive, launching reckless attacks against the Union army that was encircling the city and nearly destroying his forces. Sherman’s armies laid siege to Atlanta through late August, launching as many as 5,000 projectiles a day into the city. On September 1, at the Battle of Jonesboro, Union forces succeeded in cutting the last supply lines to Atlanta, and Hood ordered the evacuation of the city. On September 2, Atlanta fell, and ten weeks later on November 15, as he prepared to begin his March to the Sea, Sherman ordered the city burned.
War & Remembrance
The Civil War is remembered in spectacular fashion at a trio of not-to-be-missed Atlanta-area attractions. Atlanta History Center’s Turning Point: The American Civil War is one of the largest and most complete Civil War exhibitions in the nation. Engaging displays, films and more than 1,500 artifacts allow visitors to experience the war through the eyes of soldiers and civilians alike. The Atlanta Cyclorama & Civil War Museum surrounds visitors with history. Here, the world’s second-largest oil painting, The Battle of Atlanta, is accompanied by music, narration and a 30-foot diorama, all coming together to tell the story of the legendary July 22 battle. Visitors to Stone Mountain Park will be wowed by the largest high-relief sculpture in the world. The mountain’s carved surface, larger than a football field, depicts three Confederate notables: Gen. Robert E. Lee, Lt. Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
Did You Know?
Today, the city of Atlanta’s seal bears the motto “Resurgens,” Latin for “rising again,” and features a phoenix, the mythical bird that is reborn from its own ashes.
Lifelines of the Confederacy
As the Union blockade of Southern seaports tightened over the course of the war, the Confederacy came to rely heavily on the railroads. These lifelines transported troops and supplies to the front and returned with the injured and dying. The network of lines that bound together the industrial heartland of the Confederacy converged in Atlanta, making the city an obvious target for invading Union armies. The Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, illustrates the centrality of rail to the war effort through photographs and artifacts in the exhibition Railroads: Lifelines of the Civil War.
The Cannonball House
As the bulk of Sherman’s forces laid siege to the city of Atlanta in late July, Union cavalry campaigns south of the city looked to sever railroad and communication lines vital to the Confederate forces holding Atlanta. Gen. George Stoneman was driving farther south, in an attempt to reach the infamous Andersonville prison camp and liberate Union POWs, when he led a raid on Macon. The 1853 Greek Revival home of Judge Asa Holt was struck by Federal artillery. The only home damaged in the raid, it has since been known as the Cannonball House and showcases a Confederate military collection, as well as period furnishings.
March to the Sea
On November 15, Sherman began his March to the Sea. His armies, split into two wings, broke from their supply and communication lines and lived off the land. Over the course of the next five weeks, Sherman continued to put into play his strategy of “total war” and cut two 50-mile-wide paths of destruction through the heart of Georgia. In Millen, the right wing discovered Camp Lawton, the war’s largest prison camp (excavations led by Georgia Southern University continue at the site, which may prove one of the richest Civil War digs in the nation). On December 13, Union forces overwhelmed the Confederates holding Fort McAllister, the key to Savannah, in fifteen minutes; eight days later, on December 21, the city fell.
Did You Know?
The March to the Sea resulted in an estimated $100 million in damage. That’s about $1.4 billion in today’s dollars.
Christmas in Savannah
Realizing that his small army could not hold out against approaching Union forces and fearing Savannah would be leveled by shelling, as Atlanta had been, Confederate Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee ordered a retreat to South Carolina. As a result Georgia’s first city—and its myriad architectural treasures—was spared destruction. On December 22, Sherman telegraphed President Lincoln news that the city had surrendered and offered it, along with 25,000 bales of cotton, to the president as a Christmas present. Lincoln responded by asking Sherman what he planned next. Today, visitors can tour the Green-Meldrim House, which served as Sherman’s Savannah headquarters, as well as a host of other historic homes. visitsavannah.com
The Town Too Pretty to Burn
While many of middle Georgia’s towns were destroyed by Sherman’s armies, Madison was famously spared the torch. One of the town’s most prominent residents, former U.S. congressman Joshua Hill, reportedly convinced Sherman not to set fire to Madison, and the popular tourist destination has come to be known as “the town too pretty to burn.” madisonga.org
Forty Acres and a Mule
As Sherman’s armies advanced through Georgia, thousands of emancipated slaves followed. Seeking to solve the problems caused by mass refugees and respond to the tragic December 9 drowning of hundreds of freed slaves in Ebenezer Creek, as they attempted to follow the Union forces across after the retracting of a pontoon bridge, Sherman issued Special Field Order No. 15. The order, which Sherman drafted after meeting with black community leaders in Savannah, temporarily granted each family confiscated land in coastal Georgia and a mule. News spread quickly, but few would receive the promised assistance, as President Andrew Johnson would overturn the order less than a year later. Today, “forty acres and a mule” is invoked in conversations about reparations owed to the descendants of slaves and even finds expression in the name of filmmaker Spike Lee’s production studio and the lyrics of Kanye West. A historic marker honors the slaves who died at the Effingham County site.
Discover a wealth of information about Civil War sites and related attractions in Georgia, as well as maps, timelines and more at GaCivilWar.org. While there, order your copy of Crossroads of Conflict: A Guide to Civil War Sites in Georgia, an indispensible resource for planning your visit.