Baptists and the American Civil War: September 4, 1864

Atlanta, Ga. Gen. William T. Sherman on horseback at Federal Fort No. 7

Atlanta, Ga. Gen. William T. Sherman on horseback at Federal Fort No. 7

Sam Richards, Atlanta businessman, former Unionist and member of the city’s Second Baptist Church, today writes of how “it is strange to go about Atlanta and see only Yankee uniforms.” “The enemy,” he continues, “behave themselves pretty well except in the scramble for tobacco and liquor during which every store in town nearly was broken into yesterday.”

Yet due to the unreliability of telegraph lines during the stormy weather covering much of the South, news of the fall of Atlanta continues to filter out ever so slowly.

Within the Confederacy, officials in Richmond today report only of rumors of Atlanta’s capture. Terrible that such rumors are, for now the faithful hold out hope that the information is not wholly correct.

As Confederate leaders seek answers to what has transpired in Atlanta, Union General William T. Sherman‘s official report of the capture of the Southern city does not reach the North at large until this day, two full days after the fact. Dated yesterday, the report today is forwarded by U.S. War Department officials to other military officers. Welcomed with great joy by military personnel and civilians alike, Sherman’s report is soon printed in major newspapers, including the New York Times:

WAR DEPARTMENT, Sept. 4, 1864.

To Maj.-Gen. Dix, New-York:

Gen. SHERMAN’s official report of the capture of Atlanta has just been received by this department. It is dated 26 miles south of Atlanta, 6 o’clock yesterday morning, but was detained by the breaking of the telegraph lines, mentioned in my dispatch of last night. He says:

As already reported, the army withdrew from about Atlanta, and on the 30th had made a break of the West Point road, and reached a good position, from which to strike the Macon road — the right (HOWARD) near Jonesboro; the left (SCOFIELD) near Rough and Ready, and the centre (THOMAS) at Couch’s.

HOWARD found the enemy in force at Jonesboro, and entrenched his troops, the salient within half a mile of the railroad. The enemy attacked him at 3 P.M., but was easily repulsed, leaving his dead and wounded.

Finding strong opposition on the road, advanced the left and centre rapidly to the railroad, made a good lodgment, and broke it all the way from Rough and Ready down to HOWARD’s left, near Jonesboro; and by the same movement I interposed my whole army between Atlanta and the part of the enemy intrenched in and around Jonesboro.

We made a general attack on the enemy at Jonesboro, on the first of September, the Fourteenth Corps, Gen. JEFF C. DAVIS, carrying the works handsomely, with ten guns and about a thousand prisoners.

In the night the enemy retreated south, and we have followed him to another of his his hastily constructed lines near Lovejoy’s Station. HOOD, at Atlanta, finding me on his road, the only one that could supply him, and between him and a considerable part of his army, blew up his magazines in Atlanta, and left in the night-time, when the Twentieth Corps, Gen. SLOCUM, took possession of the place. So Atlanta is ours, and fairly won.

Since the 5th of May, we have been in one constant battle or skirmish, and need rest. Our losses will not exceed 1,200, and we have possession of over 300 rebel dead, 250 wounded, and over 1,500 well.

(Signed) W.T. SHERMAN,


As news of the capture of Atlanta thus spreads far and wide, Sherman, operating out of temporary headquarters in Atlanta, plots his next moves. Included in his plans is the evacuation of non-combatants from Atlanta.

H’d Qrts. Mil. D. of the Miss.
In the Field near Lovejoys Ga.
Sept. 4th 64.

General Halleck

The 20th Corps now occupies Atlanta & the Chattahoochee bridges. The main Army is now here, grouped below Jonesboro. The Enemy hold a Line facing us with front well covered by parapets, & flanks by Walnut Creek on the Right & a Confluent of Flint River on his Left. His position is too strong to attack in front & to turn it would carry me too far from our base at this time. Besides there is no commensurate object, as there is no valueable (sic) point to is Rear till we reach Macon 103 miles from Atlanta

We are not prepared for that & I will gradually fall back & occupy Atlanta which was & is our grand objective point already secure.

For the future I propose that of the drafted men I receive my due share, say 50,000. That an equal or greater number go to Genl. Canby who should now proceed with all energy to Montgomery & the Reach of the Alabama River above Selma-that when I know he can move on Columbus Georgia, I move form junction repair Roads to Montgomery & open up the Apalachicola & Macon. This Campaign can be made in the winter, & we can safely rely on the Corn of the Flint and Chattahoochee to supply forage.

If the Tensas Channel of the Alabama River can be used, Genl. Gardner with his Rebel Garrison could continue to hold Mobile for our use when we want it.

I propose to remove all the Inhabitants of Atlanta, sending those committed to our cause to the Rear & the Rebel families to the front. I will allow no trade, manufactories or any citizens there at all, so that we will have the entire use of Railroad back as also such corn & forage as my be reached by our troops.

If the people raise a howl against my barbarity & cruelty, I will answer that War is War & not popularity seeking. If they want peace, they & their relations must stop War.

W.T. Sherman

Maj. Genl. Comdg.

Meanwhile, in the United States capital of Washington, President Abraham Lincoln, jubilant over the fall of Atlanta, takes the time to pen a letter to Mrs. Eliza Gurney, a Quaker widow. Lincoln’s Calvinist Baptist upbringing is reflected in the president’s words.

Executive Mansion,
Washington, September 4, 1864.

Eliza P. Gurney.
My esteemed friend.

I have not forgotten–probably never shall forget–the very impressive occasion when yourself and friends visited me on a Sabbath forenoon two years ago. Nor has your kind letter, written nearly a year later, ever been forgotten. In all, it has been your purpose to strengthen my reliance on God. I am much indebted to the good Christian people of the country for their constant prayers and consolations; and to no one of them, more than to yourself. The purposes of the Almighty are perfect, and must prevail, though we erring mortals may fail to accurately perceive them in advance. We hoped for a happy termination of this terrible war long before this; but God knows best, and has ruled otherwise. We shall yet acknowledge His wisdom and our own error therein. Meanwhile we must work earnestly in the best light He gives us, trusting that so working still conduces to the great ends He ordains. Surely He intends some great good to follow this mighty convulsion, which no mortal could make, and no mortal could stay.

Your people–the Friends–have had, and are having, a very great trial. On principle, and faith, opposed to both war and oppression, they can only practically oppose oppression by war. In this hard dilemma, some have chosen one horn, and some the other. For those appealing to me on conscientious grounds, I have done, and shall do, the best I could and can, in my own conscience, under my oath to the law. That you believe this I doubt not; and believing it, I shall still receive, for our country and myself, your earnest prayers to our Father in heaven.

Your sincere friend
A. Lincoln.

In Lincoln’s former home state of Kentucky, however, not much has changed. In the countryside, Union and Confederates continue to vie for control. Guerrilla warfare remains commonplace. Following military raids and counter raids, the pastor of Brandenburg Baptist Church, Kentucky–George H. Hicks–is summoned as witness and spiritual confidant this afternoon in the execution of four Confederates by Union soldiers. It may not be the last gruesome scene for which his services are needed.

Although the fall of Atlanta assures the ultimate outcome of the war, the fighting is far from over.

Sources: Samuel Pearce Richards, edited by Wendy Hamand Venet, Sam Richards’s Civil War diary: a Chronicle of the Atlanta Home Front, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009, p. 235 (link); “The Fall of Atlanta; The Official Report of Maj. Gen. Sherman,” New York Times, September 5, 1864 (link); Letter, General William T. Sherman to General Henry Halleck, September 4, 1864, North Carolina State University (link); “Atlanta Under Sherman” (link); Lincoln to Eliza P. Gurney, September 4, 1864, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 7 (link); Bryan S. Bush, Louisville and the Civil War, Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2008, pp. 88-90 (link); image (link)