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Martin Kelly

Sherman Orders the Burning of Atlanta

By November 15, 2010

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On November 15, 1864, General Sherman gave orders to burn all public buildings, machine shops, depots, and arsenals in Atlanta during the Civil War. While setting out for Savannah that same day Sherman stated, "Behind us lay Atlanta smoldering and in ruins, the black smoke rising high in the air and hanging like a ball over the ruined city."


November 28, 2007 at 10:43 am
(1) John says:

Sherman’s march was an unjustifiable act and the very things that he told his troops to do he hung them for doing the same thing a mere two years earlier. He knew better (West Point taught him that these were war crimes) than to commit atrocities against civilians (both he and Sheridan) and should have been held accountable rather than applauded as a hero.

November 27, 2008 at 9:41 am
(2) Tom says:

My it must be wonderful to have 20/20 hindsight 140 years later. Would these liberal mush minds judge an other culture today with the same standard they apply to another time/culture?

How easy it is to judge those fighting for their lives while while you are sitting in comfort. “Anything is possible for the man who does not have to do it.”

November 27, 2008 at 10:35 am
(3) Aaron says:

Some people seem to think that Sherman did the burning to kill people. That is far from the truth. When Sherman captured Atlanta he ordered all civilians to leave. He ordered that all military and government buildings be destroyed by fire. If one cuts off their enemy’s supplies, the enemy can no longer fight. This was Sherman’s motivation. His actions were a direct cause to shortening the war.

December 1, 2008 at 8:44 am
(4) Sarge says:

Isn’t it sad that so many of us have the ability to detect what is in another’s mind? Sherman had long determined to end this war. West Point taught him to cut off the enemy supply line and you win the war. Had he not accomplished this, who knows how long the war would have continued and for that matter how it would have ended. It might be that had he not taken such drastic steps, we would have slavery today. Granted, his strategy was drastic, but effective. These arm chair historians need to do a little more research before they accuse him of war crimes and inhumane atrocities.

December 1, 2008 at 2:00 pm
(5) Vincent Coyle says:

General Sherman is not the monster people conceive him to be. He ordered the people of Atlanta to leave and THEN burned it down. He had to do this or else the war would have dragged on forever. He is part of the reason why the Union won the war.
Also, civilians were not raped and murdered like someone else here wrote.

March 29, 2009 at 4:32 pm
(6) happy_doom says:

personally, I think Sherman was a genius. From a military standpoint, burning Atlanta was brilliant. It destroyed supplies, artilary, and amunition in the largest supply city of the Confederate. It’s not like there were people in the city…he wasn’t cruel he was just proving a point.

March 31, 2009 at 2:54 pm
(7) thethinker says:

When Sherman got to the city, many of the buildings were already on fire. This fires (like cotton) were set by the people to deprive the Army of supplies. Sherman only continued what was started. He did his job to end the war.

March 31, 2009 at 2:58 pm
(8) Gerry Seaquist says:

Sherman only continued what the people had started. The military values such as cotton were set fire by the city folk to deprive the Army of military supplies. He only added to the already job that was already under way. He was a soldier doing his job. War is HELL!

April 1, 2009 at 3:46 pm
(9) Gerald Seaquist says:

Gov. Brown had ordered the people to burn bridges and anything else the Yankee Army could take with them. Yes Sherman did burn building of military value and the fire spread, he and Brown share.

April 1, 2009 at 3:50 pm
(10) Gerald Seaquist says:

Gov. Brown had ordered the people of Atlanta to burn bridges and anything the Yankee Army could use or take with them. Sherman ordered the burning of anything that could aid the Southern Army. A little blame for each!

May 27, 2009 at 5:55 pm
(11) doctorperverso says:

The Southern ‘Aristocracy’ was an oppressive class system that was built on the backs of the poor and the slaves and the war was fought for the benefit of those who lived at the top. Sherman brought their war home to them. The man was brilliant.

November 10, 2009 at 5:34 pm
(12) Terry says:

Shermans idea was a really good one, if it wasn’t for his “Total War” idea and bringing the the war to the people and also cutting off the supplies to the confederate soldiers, I don’t think that the civil war would have ended where it did.

November 12, 2009 at 2:39 pm
(13) Jeff says:

Hmmm, if Lee would’ve used the same tactics when he took his Virginia Army into Maryland how would history have treated him? Would he be viewed as a war criminal or Confederate Hero? Something to think about when you are quick to declare Sherman a genius.

November 26, 2009 at 7:44 pm
(14) Eric says:

The war was about slavery. The secession statements stated that it was about slavery. So now – were they lying, or is this just southern spin?

Evil is slavery. Burning buildings pales by comparison.

The war should properly be called “The Slaveholder’s Rebellion”.

November 26, 2009 at 8:42 pm
(15) George says:

Seems like somewhat similar arguments come up when scrutinizing Truman’s dropping atomic bombs on Japan. Although absolutely horrific, no doubt these actions ended the war with Japan earlier than otherwise, and spared millions of lives.
No doubt there was an element of revenge in US actions against Japan, but after the war the US was very generous towards Japan.
I guess Union forces had some revenge on the South as well, but finally the South was robbed of the will and the means to continue the war.
War is hell, and human weakness means, unfortunately, that revenge will happen.

November 30, 2009 at 6:25 am
(16) Olli says:

Let us see, what the generalīs own opinion was:

Look to the South and you who went with us through that land can best say if they have not been fearfully punished. Mourning is in every household, desolation written in broad characters across the whole face of their country, cities in ashes and fields laid waste, their commerce gone, their system of labor annihilated and destroyed. Ruin and poverty and distress everywhere, and now pestilence adding to the very cap sheaf of their stack of misery…Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman

December 16, 2009 at 2:15 am
(17) Hugh O'Hara says:

Washington Lincoln & Their Colleagues Wow. Their absence is painfully felt in our midst today. Let’s resurrect their Legacy.

February 7, 2010 at 12:28 pm
(18) Villan says:

The burning of Atlanta should be viewed in the same light as the area bombing of Dresden by the Allies in 1945. Both were of minimal military value, but equally, both were significant symbolic punishments meted out in retribution to corrupt and evil systems and their warped civil support.

February 12, 2010 at 6:51 pm
(19) Patrick Crosby says:

I write this on Feb. 12, 2010, a day on which schools and libraries where I now live, in Southern California (I was born in Illinois) are closed to honor the American President who, without even a declaration of war from his congress, took a series of actions that resulted in the deaths of over 600, 000 of his fellow Americans– black and white. Why? For many reasons (not the least being his campaign contributors from the munitions industry). But mainly, he saw clearly the task which lay ahead, the fulfilling of “manifest destiny,” namely the slaughter of millions of “savages,” who those of us who are more civilized call Native Americans. Lincoln saw correctly that a “house divided” could not do this.
No, this was not “the Bombing of Dresden” or the Bombing of Tokyo. It was more like Cain killing Abel. I can only wonder whether Atlanta Public Libraries are closed today to honor the birth of the worst scoundrel ever to occupy the White House. “The Land of Lincoln”– to revive a common slang term from decades ago, barf.

September 5, 2010 at 6:58 pm
(20) William Kennedy says:

Oh my Gosh Patrick… How in the world did you come up with such diatribe???

We’re talking 1860′s here, not 2010… All this hine site balony! You can’t possible think that a man of God such as Abraham Lincoln, could have possibly desired the deaths of all those men, women, and children.. Of any human race.. But, I guess you do… Man, and you are from illinois.. People never cease to amaze me..
Lord, help Patrick and the others who harbor such derogatory thoughts, see the light… Your light.. amen..

November 18, 2010 at 8:56 pm
(21) bear says:

abraham lincoin was in fact not a bad president, but i do dispise him of killing the lives of 6,000 sivillians,union, and confederate soiders just to preserve the union. If he were to just leave the southern states alone at that time then they would eventually fallen apart on its own. what Sherman did was very wrong just for him to prove a point. for all you people that dissagree with me and say that he did it with good intentions because Atlanta supported the confederates. wellit does not mean that you go on a rampage to burn a city down to the ground becuse of that is very wrong as well as owning slaves.

February 14, 2011 at 1:32 pm
(22) Dennis says:

Lincoln was our worst president because he could have had more patience. He could have used the repeating rifles available. His miscalculations and fiery oratory, resulted in hardening of attitudes. But one could argue all wars are based on miscalculations and fiery oratory by all of us. I well remember the man and woman on the street hollering for blood after the fake Gulf of Tonkin attack. I went they didn’t. War is simple kill more of the others as fast as we can using the most horrible methods available.

February 19, 2011 at 8:45 am
(23) Steven says:

Shermans March went down in history as one of the greatest events in history. Everyone thinks he destroyed the whole city of Atlanta but that is not true. Not even half of Atlanta was destroyed only key buildings that sherman had to destroy to keep the south from using them against his army. pilferaging was agreed by both sides that it was legal. You don’t go into a strong hold city of your enemy and leave ammo factories, money crops like cotton and tabacco without burning them up.

You take about 100,000 troops no supplies and at times even needing to creat roads because there were none. It took 20 tons of food a day to feed these men. Every army since the beggining of time when they have conquard a city that army did what ever was nesseccery to feed themselves,steal guns, ammo, gas, burn down factories that made guns ammo. Sherman also took as much silver and gold as he could and burned the banks and the money so the south could not use it to buy new supplies.

During his march he burned all cash crops like cotton and tabacco to keep the south from selling them for guns like they had been with spain and the french. It was lucky that Lincoln listened to Grant who had confidence in Sherman that he would complete his mission because Lincoln did not believe it would work.

Grant was under a lot of stress in an earlier battle a year or so before the Shermans march and Sherman was just relieved of duty for not following exact orders. Before Sherman came back to ohio were his home was he went to see his friend Grant to try to lift his spirit. The two spent some time togather and Grant felt much better. Mean while Sherman went home he had no commision and was feeling suicidle.

February 23, 2011 at 2:04 pm
(24) bob10648 says:

The Confederacy burned the City of Chambersburg, Pa. after the city fathers were unable to pay a ransom. Many of the southern soldiers were sickened by the orders and tried to help individual families. Others, went about their business. Everything was destroyed, not just those things that would support the military, everything. This was a year before Atlanta. Look it up.

Sherman was right, war is all hell, and the Confederacy should have thought this through when they seceded from the Union over slavery. That’s right, slavery was the only
cause of the war. The original six states of the Conferacy sent speakers to the legislatures of the other Southern states to try to convince them to secede. Not one speech mentions states rights or in fact any other cause other than slavery. Look it up.

February 27, 2011 at 9:19 pm
(25) Jonathan Hackworth, (M.A.) - Military History says:

Slavery was the main issue among many for the cause of the U.S. Civil War. The North was complicit and very much a part of the issue of slavery despite the numerous abolitionist and anti-slavery policies.

The invention of the cotton gin, numerous other inventions, and Manifest Destiny are all contributors to the rise of slavery. Slavery in the South was on the decline until the cotton gin and with the advent of it, slavery as a economic engine began to increase. The cotton production in the south increased well over 110% and the major buyer of the cotton were the textile factories of the north The south supplied 3/4 of the worlds cotton. So slavery was both benefitial to the south and north.

So to lay the cause of the Civil War squarely on the shoulders of the South is a mistake as the North was just as guilty.

April 8, 2011 at 1:26 am
(26) mike says:

One look at Andersonville and I would have burned the whole south.

May 7, 2011 at 10:15 pm
(27) TexLady says:

Lincoln declared “Total War” on the south and told his Generals to do whatever necessary to win the war. “Honest Abe” was well aware of the atrocities that his army was commiting. They left women, children, old men and ill people homeless, with nothing but the clothes on their backs and without food in the winter to die. Lee may have lost the war but he would never had stooped to that level. He was a man of dignity and honor. I should hope that our soldiers today would not behave like that.

August 7, 2011 at 9:08 pm
(28) Brian says:


Please, it’s not liberal minds — it’s neo-Confederate/conservative minds whining about Sherman’s March to the Sea. But maybe Sherman learned a thing from Early’s torching of Chambersburg, Pa., in July of 1864.

November 13, 2011 at 7:53 pm
(29) Tcrider says:

I usually dont make comments but I must make these know on these issues.
1. The term “Total war” was never used during the civil war you can look at the memoirs and documents. the Idea of “total War” was created during the 1920′s ( read Mark Neely was the civil war a total war?)
2. You cant blame lincoln for the killing of 620,000 (most died of diease and infection) people.. Neither size predicted the war would last that long and union prepared a limited strategy, which took over a year to admit it would not work.
3. Sherman belived in Hard warfare, which went after any and all military resources that would help replenish the confederate army. when it came to civilians..Sherman belived as long as they did not retailate they were not harmed. Civilians were never directly targeted.In the concept of total warfare was to use all resources to destroy the enemy army INCLUDING targeting all civilans

January 8, 2012 at 9:02 pm
(30) ryan says:

Patrick is an ignoramus and a scoundrel of the highest order. WHy, look at how he attempts to cover his approval of slavery by referencing humanitarian concerns and the use of high minded rhetoric to place himself on the moral high ground. Joseph Goebbels would be mighty impressed!

History and war is far too complex for simplistic moralizing. War is mass murder no matter how many rules you apply to it. How people die is secondary to the fact that people are dying period. The way I see it is that whatever method ends the war quickest is the best method to choose for the longer a war goes the more people are going to die.

I have no issue with any methods applied by Sherman, Grant, or the allies in WWII. It is war. It cannot be helped.

February 29, 2012 at 11:21 am
(31) Greg says:

If the South had had a Navy they would not have lost the war. How did Southerners get slaves with a lack of shipping resources? . Arabs captured people on the Continent of Africa, actually African tribes captured members of other African tribes and sold those poor souls to Arabs who then sold many of them to British or American slave traders at the docks on the African Continent. The majority of slaves came to North America by way of Massachusetts. Even if they didn’t hit land at Massachusetts proper the powerful shipping industry centered there made it possible.

Money and Capital and influence was beginning to shift from the Northeast to the South. To combat this, commodities were taxed at a very high rate, while manufactured:: goods experiences very low tax rares. When this strategy failed to tamp down the flow of investment out of the North to the South, Slavery was outlawed in the North and the last option of a trade policy gone bad was put in place.

Before anyone freaks, let me say slavery is awful and it is good that it is gone although that is debatable as well. It may easily be said that the highly centralized government, a decendent of the victorious Northern system with their high taxes and high rates of government spending has us all enslaved except for a select few feeding at the trough of our modern system.

December 6, 2012 at 4:07 pm
(32) Lewis says:

How nice of Sherman to warn the people that he would send thousands of shells into the city before killing a 6 year old and other children. What was a 6 year old doing in a factory? Oh, that’s right, it wasn’t just about “factories” it was about everything. Putting women and children in (today’s terms would be) concentration camps…nice.

Every western country got rid of slavery without a war. And supposedly this is what it took to end slavery? Imprisoning, starving, women and children. No, you people need to read history. I was a Sherman fan till I read the truth.

April 29, 2013 at 4:57 pm
(33) ofcourse says:

A lot of you have the misconception that the Civil War was all about the freeing of slaves. Abraham Lincoln’s only goal for the war was the hopes of restoring the Union. Abraham Lincoln once said something along the lines of “If I could restore the Union and free the slaves, I would do it. If I could restore the Union and free some of the slaves, I would do it. And If I could restore the Union and free none of the slaves, I would do that too.” His ultimate goal was to restore the Union.

November 26, 2013 at 1:16 pm
(34) Don Cole says:

Let’s let history speak for itself.
“Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States, that by the accession of a Republican Administration, their property, and their peace, and personal security, are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed, and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you. I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I had made this, and many similar declarations, and had never recanted them.” Abraham Lincoln
And one more:
“If I thought this war was to abolish slavery, I would resign my commission and offer my sword to the other side.” Ulysses S. Grant
And now we hear: “If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep it.”
The destruction of State’s and individual rights continue today as they have been throughout our history with most of it by the National/Federal means. Slavery as well as Women’s Suffrage and other Constitutional issues would have eventually cleared themselves up, with less damage to generations, had the Federal Government not been so heavy handed.
So in closing: “This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.” Abraham Lincoln

January 26, 2014 at 10:39 am
(35) brian murphy says:

I started reading about the Civil War a few years ago I am from Scotland by the way so no axe to grind Now mid way through Shelby Footes might tomb and having read Grants memoirs and numerous other books I am still unsure as to its reasons Opinion varies One thing I am clear on however is that Shermans march to the sea was probably a brilliant military campaign

March 28, 2014 at 10:30 am
(36) Jarrett says:

Sherman was the most evil American to have ever lived. He on perpas broke the rules of war established for that time period. He was an invading force on a forign land. He sent pows to clear out minefeilds. He had his men rape, murder and, pillage enicent familys trying to stay out of the war. He burnt down everything leaving Gerogians homeless and starving. There is no justification for these acts not even with their looser rules of war. Lincon should have been held acountable.

May 16, 2014 at 8:35 am
(37) tom says:

tHE civil WAR WAS NO LESS THAN TREASON. Its lucky they did not burn the entire South to ashes

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