The Burning of Atlanta

Chapter 58 (November 11, 1864 – November 15, 1864)

He also said the rebel cavalry got on to their trail and followed them close up to our picket line. The guard on post said he heard the clatter of the horse hoofs. Towards evening these three comrades were still together, when because of being so closely followed they decided to separate. After he left his comrades he heard several shots fired and he feared they were killed. He told us and we passed the word along the line to keep a sharp lookout for these two men, but we never heard from them. It was supposed they were killed when those two shots were fired by the cavalry.

Next morning I was ordered to take the Colonel to General Geary’s headquarters, which I did. He was dressed like an old Southern planter. His clothes were taken from him when captured with a slouch hat, and his pants were torn from Dan to Beersheba, so that it was necessary for him to use his frock coat to cover his nakedness. I reported to General Geary the name of the Colonel and the number of the regiment he commanded, and as General Geary extended his hand he said so you are Colonel- “Yes,” he said, “I am, but a hard looking one I am.” Geary took him into the house where he had his headquarters, and I returned to my post of duty. I am sorry that I have forgotten his name and regiment, but time (now nearly 49 years) has entirely erased it from my memory.

On November 5th, Saturday, our entire army left the city, and marched south about two miles and encamped. Next day, Sunday, we returned to our old quarters again. We never knew the object of this move, and I don’t suppose it mattered much whether we did or not. And now, as I said before, all our communications with the North were severed. All detachments of troops were to march rapidly to Atlanta. The work of destruction now began, hundreds of men were turning railroads upside down, bridges were burned and at night for miles and miles we could trace the course of the railroad by the light in the heavens made by the burning of railroad ties, bridges, stations and everything that might be of advantage to the rebel army. The destruction was complete. In the city few people remained as they had been ordered out by General Sherman before its capture.

Sherman’s March to the Sea began Tuesday, November 15th, 1864.

Everything now was in readiness to have the torch applied and the city destroyed. We broke camp and marched out in the following order. The left wing under Major General W. W. Slocum composed of the 14th and 20th Corps. The 14th was commanded by Major General Jeff C. Davis. The 20th by Brigadier General A. S. Williams. We marched east along the Augusta railroad. The right wing following the railroad southeast towards Jonesboro, thereby threatening both Macon and Augusta and to prevent a concentration of the enemy at Milledgeville, then the capitol of the State and our intended destination, and about one hundred miles southeast from Atlanta. Kilpatrick’s cavalry was shifted wherever it was needed.

The troops that left the city aggregated fifty-five thousand, three hundred and twenty-nine infantry, five thousand and sixty-three cavalry and eighteen hundred and twelve artillery a total of sixty-two thousand, two hundred and four. We had in all about twenty-five hundred wagons, with team of six mules each, and six hundred ambulances, with two horses each.

The wagon trains were divided equally between the four corps so that each had about eight hundred wagons, and these usually occupied on the march five miles or more of road. This was quite an army to march through an enemy’s country, and live on the fat of the land. Everything that might be available to the Confederates in Atlanta was burned. The great depot, roundhouse and machine shops of the Georgia railroad had been leveled. One of these machine shops had been used by the rebels as an arsenal, and in it were stored piles of shot and shell, some of which proved to be loaded. The torch was applied by a force of men detailed for that purpose, the black smoke rising high in the air, and hanging like a pall over the once beautiful, but now doomed city.

Rebel General Hood had gone North with the greater part of his army. General Thomas was in command of the Yankees and fell back until he reached Franklin and Nashville, Tenn., where Hood with his rebels were almost wiped off the face of the earth. Sherman’s army now cut off from all communications with the North, stood unaided and absolutely alone in the very heart of the Confederacy. Between 200 and 300 miles from Nashville, our base of supplies, 287 miles to Savannah, the point of communication on the coast, and 1,000 miles from Richmond, where General Grant was contending with Lee.

Our army moved alone into the enemy’s country, not knowing whither but with absolute confidence in “Uncle Billy.” as the boys called General Sherman. Our first day’s march we passed through the town of Decatur and encamped at Stone Mountain. Marched 17 miles. This is indeed a stone mountain, a mass of granite on which scarcely a tree or shrub is to be seen. As we marched along the railroad we would halt, stack arms and every man would take hold of the track and turn it. Rails laid over the top. When thoroughly heated, they were taken off, which being nearly all cedar, would burn like pitch pine. At some places upside down, pile fence rails upon it, and twisted around trees.

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