It depends upon where one looks.
The editor of the South Carolina Confederate Baptist, reporting only “wild rumors” from Atlanta, finds ample reasons to believe in a prosperous future for the white South. Among the articles published in today’s edition of the paper is one that extols the virtues of newly released “Southern school books,” suggesting that book stores in the South should make haste to stock the works. In a similar fashion, a commentary celebrates the demise of “a defunct Yankee book,” otherwise known as “Wester’s Spelling book.” Too long have Southern teachers used the “unpatriotic” Yankee speller. With the advent of “The Confederate Spelling Book,” the author hopes that white Southern children will “be invited to make a bonfire of the obnoxious stuff [copies of Webster’s], and sing over the flames their song of independence.” Southerners can be assured that the Confederate speller is “thoroughly Southern in its tone” and will appropriately educate “the young and rising generation of Confederates.” (White children, that is; by law, blacks remain uneducated.
While South Carolina Baptists ponder the bright future conjured in the pages of their state paper (wherein wonderful proclamations of a glorious future have long been imagined), the “rumors” about Atlanta are mild compared to what is actually happening this day on the ground.
Union General William T. Sherman, in anticipation of temporarily remaking Atlanta into a useful base of Union operations in the Deep South, orders the evacuation of the city, to commence within a matter of days. Desiring to empty the city of her residents in an orderly fashion, Sherman writes Confederate General John Bell Hood of his plans for so doing, seeking his assistance.
HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISON OF THE MISSISSIPPI,
In the Field, Atlanta, September 7 1864.
Commanding Confederate Army:
GENERAL: I have deemed it to the interest of the United States that the citizens now residing in Atlanta should remove, those who prefer it to go South, and the rest North. For the latter I can provide food and transportation to points of their election in Tennessee, Kentucky, or farther north. For the former I can provide transportation by cars as far as Rough and Ready, and also wagons; but that their removal may be made with as little discomfort as possible it will be necessary for you to help the families from Rough and Ready to the cars at Lovejoy’s. If you consent I will undertake to remove all the families in Atlanta who prefer to go South to Rough and Ready, with all their movable effects, viz, clothing, trunks, reasonable furniture, bedding, &c., with their servants, white and black, with the proviso that no force shall be used toward the blacks one way or the other. If they want to go with their masters or mistresses they may do so, otherwise they will be sent away, unless they be men, when they may be employed by our quartermaster. Atlanta is no place for families or non-combatants and I have no desire to send them North if you will assist in conveying them South. If this proposition meets your views I will consent to a truce in the neighborhood of Rough and Ready, stipulating that any wagons, horses, or animals, or persons sent there for the purposes herein stated shall in no manner be harmed or molested, you in your turn agreeing that any cars, wagons, or carriages, persons, or animals sent to the same point shall not be interfered with. Each of us might send a guard of, say, 100 men to maintain order, and limit the truce to, say, two days after a certain time appointed. I have authorized the mayor to choose two citizens to convey to you this letter and such documents as the mayor may forward in explanation, and shall await your reply.
I have the honor to be, your obedient servant.
W. T. SHERMAN,
Hood, in return agrees to Sherman’s conditions, but calls the evacuation of Atlanta the most “cruel” act of the war to date.
HDQRS. ARMY OF TENNESSEE, OFFICE CHIEF OF STAFF,
September 9, 1864.
Maj. Gen. W. T. SHERMAN.
Commanding U.S. Forces in Georgia:
GENERAL: Your letter of yesterday’s date [7th] borne by James M. Ball and James R. Crew, citizens of Atlanta, is received. You say therein “I deem it to be to the interest of the United States that the citizens now residing in Atlanta should remove,” &c. I do not consider that I have any alternative in this matter. I therefore accept your proposition to declare a truce of two days, or such time as may be necessary to accomplish the purpose mentioned, and shall render all assistance in my power to expedite the transportation of citizens in this direction. I suggest that a staff officer be appointed by you to superintend the removal from the city to Rough and Ready, while I appoint a like officer to control their removal farther south; that a guard of 100 men be sent by either party, as you propose, to maintain order at that place, and that the removal begin on Monday next. And now, sir, permit me to say that the unprecedented measure you propose transcends, in studied and ingenious cruelty, all acts ever before brought to my attention in the dark history of war. In the name of God and humanity I protest, believing that you will find that you are expelling from their homes and firesides the wives and children of a brave people.
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. B. HOOD,
The evacuation of the city thus proceeds, albeit in the midst of an ongoing war of words between Sherman and Hood that lasts for some days to come, during which time far off rumors dissolve into the harsh reality of Sherman’s occupation of the Southern city.
Stanzas of a rosy Southern future, henceforth, are increasingly strained to the point of incredulity.
Sources: “Secular News,” “Southern School Books” and “A Defunct Yankee Book,” Confederate Baptist, September 7, 1864; “General Sherman Letter to Confederate General Hood Concerning Evacuation of Atlanta,” September 7, 1864 (link); General Hood Letter to General Sherman, September 9, 1864 (link)