What the Yankees Did to Us: Sherman’s Bombardment and Wrecking of Atlanta
By Stephen Davis, Mercer University Press, 2013, $37
Thanks to Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, the Burning of Atlanta is one of the Civil War’s most iconic images. Yet little is actually known about the devastation brought on by Gen. William Sherman’s siege in the fall of 1864. “The occupation is untreated in most war histories, which move from the Northerners entering the city [September 2] to their marching out [November 15-16], generally in the flip of a page,” Davis writes. “For this reason I give the Union occupation a little more attention in the desire to contribute to the literature.”
Davis, an Atlanta native, wrote an earlier account of the campaign, Atlanta Will Fall: Sherman, Joe Johnston, and the Yankee Heavy Battalions. He focuses here on the hellishness of the city’s destruction from the point of view of those who experienced it. Using newspaper accounts as well as previously unpublished letters and diaries, Davis re-creates a horror that history has largely ignored.
As Sherman neared death in February 1891, an editorial in the Atlanta Constitution voiced what most Atlantans felt, namely that he “has been more bitterly hated than any other Northern general. The ruined houses and the general devastation he left behind him naturally made his victims unwilling to forgive or forget.” Sherman’s army “burned Atlanta and Columbia, and other towns, and stripped the people of all they had,” but once the war was over he “showed a softer side, and men and women, even among his former foes, found him a very lovable man.”
Davis admits he offered up a familiar, and partial, epithet as he stood over Sherman’s grave in St. Louis recently: “I hate you, you son of a bitch, for what you did to my people, and my city, and that you won. But I admire you as a soldier. Peace to your ashes.”