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[272]

Opinion of a United States officer of the Depopulation of Atlanta.

by Colonel J. H. Keatley.
[In view of recent utterances by General Sherman, the following from advance sheets of a history of the war, will be read with interest.]

The capture of Atlanta was regarded by the people of the North as ranking in importance with the conquest of Vicksburg, and Sherman's success hailed with extreme manifestations of joy. The city was a valuable railroad center of the South, and the seat of some of its most. important and necessary manufactures, and its fall was a heavy and discouraging blow to the Confederacy. Sherman decided to give rest to his army, and therefore, instead of pressing his advantage in the field with twice the force that Hood could bring to resist him, he recalled his troops on the 5th, and assigned the occupancy of Atlanta to General Thomas, East Point to Howard, and Decatur to Schofield. He also took steps to depopulate the city, so as to avoid the necessity of feeding the inhabitants, of keeping it in strong garrison, and of burdening the railroad with supplies for the sustenance of an unfriendly population when he should again resume field operations. He therefore “peremptorily required that all the citizens and families resident in Atlanta should go away, giving to each the option to go South or North, as their interests or feelings dictated.” General Hood opened a correspondence with him, seeking to avert the order, but it terminated in a fruitless discussion, and the mandate was rigidly enforced, and as the great bulk of the people were in sympathy with the Confederacy, they selected a Southern exile from their homes. The investment had lasted forty-six days, with all the terrors and anxieties of such surroundings. The railroads supplying them with food had been taxed to their utmost, after repeated Federal raids crippling their capacity to furnish Hood's army of less than forty-five thousand men, and privation and suffering were the consequence, but this heaviest of all the calamities of civil war, burst like a thunder cloud upon the heads of old men, women and children, who had the misfortune to have cherished homes and interests in the captured city. General Sherman notified General Halleck at Washington, on the 4th, of his intention to remove the inhabitants, and concluded his letter with the “blood and iron” statement: “If the people raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war, and not popularity-seeking. If they want peace, they and their relatives must stop the war.” Fancy Sitting Bull, on the eve of General Custer's fatal [273] campaign, saying to General Sherman as Commander of the United States Army, “If you want peace, you must teach your white neighbors to deal justly with us.” If war simply means killing, and is nothing more than to do the greatest and speediest harm to the enemy, then its modern methods are indefensible, and the giving and taking of quarter a false refinement. Claverhouse taught the maxim that “war is war,” and invested the story of Glencoe with a tragic interest and at which history will never cease to blush. The order to depopulate Atlanta was obeyed amid agonies and sorrows indescribable, and the city, but for the presence of the soldiers who had captured it, was as desolate as the ruins of Nineveh.

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