Today in Military History: Union General Sherman Attacks Atlanta


On August 31, 1864, Union General William T. Sherman launched the final assault on Atlanta, Georgia.

Sherman’s Atlanta campaign began in the spring of that year, taking on Confederate Generals John B. Hood, William Hardee, and Joseph E. Johnston. His objective was to capture the city and cut the supply lines from the South.

In what would become the Battle of Jonesboro, Confederate troops attempted to block Sherman’s army and were defeated, forcing them to withdraw from Atlanta, a demoralizing loss for the South. Sherman’s men would hold the city until November, when he began his infamous march to the sea.

Sherman’s behavior has been notorious throughout history. The man known for burning Georgia to the ground was ruthless to his enemies and he earned a fearsome reputation. He used Confederate POWs to clear minefields. However, his order was more than to rush them into midfield to blast them. His logic was that these troops had buried these mines near Sandersville and they should be the ones to dig them up. He did the same outside of Savannah later in the campaign.

A complex character, he also fed citizens from his army stores and allowed emancipated slaves to follow his army as it marched from Atlanta to Savannah. Sherman was very dedicated to the laws of war, even as he pushed the boundaries of those laws. He even challenged his critics to “see the books” of these laws for themselves.

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