The destruction of Atlanta begins

The destruction of Atlanta begins

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On November 12, 1864, Union General William T. Sherman orders the business district of Atlanta, Georgia, destroyed before he embarks on his famous March to the Sea.

When Sherman captured Atlanta in early September 1864, he knew that he could not remain there for long. His tenuous supply line ran from Nashville, Tennessee, through Chattanooga, Tennessee, then one hundred miles through mountainous northern Georgia. The army he had just defeated, the Army of Tennessee, was still in the area and its leader, John Bell Hood, swung around Atlanta to try to damage Sherman’s lifeline. Of even greater concern was the Confederate cavalry of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, a brilliant commander who could strike quickly against the railroads and river transports on which Sherman relied.

During the fall, Sherman conceived of a plan to split his enormous army. He sent part of it, commanded by General George Thomas, back toward Nashville to deal with Hood while he prepared to take the rest of the troops across Georgia. Through October, Sherman built up a massive cache of supplies in Atlanta. He then ordered a systematic destruction of the city to prevent the Confederates from recovering anything once the Yankees had abandoned it. By one estimate, nearly 40 percent of the city was ruined. Sherman would apply to the same policy of destruction to the rest of Georgia as he marched to Savannah. Before leaving on November 15, Sherman’s forces had burned the industrial district of Atlanta and left little but a smoking shell.

READ MORE: Sherman's March to the Sea

The destruction of Atlanta begins - Nov 12, 1864 -

TSgt Joe C.

On this day in 1864, Union General William T. Sherman orders the business district of Atlanta, Georgia,destroyed before he embarks on his famous March to the Sea.

When Sherman captured Atlanta in early September 1864, he knew that he could not remain there for long. His tenuous supply line ran from Nashville, Tennessee, through Chattanooga, Tennesse, then one hundred miles through mountainous northern Georgia. The army he had just defeated, the Army of Tennessee, was still in the area and its leader, John Bell Hood, swung around Atlanta to try to damage Sherman’s lifeline. Of even greater concern was the Confederate cavalry of General Nathan Bedford Forrest,a brilliant commander who could strike quickly against the railroads and river transports on which Sherman relied.

During the fall, Sherman conceived of a plan to split his enormous army. He sent part of it, commanded by General George Thomas, back toward Nashville to deal with Hood while he prepared to take the rest of the troops across Georgia. Through October, Sherman built up a massive cache of supplies in Atlanta. He then ordered a systematic destruction ofthe cityto prevent the Confederates from recovering anything once the Yankees had abandoned it. By one estimate, nearly 40 percent of the city was ruined. Sherman would apply to the same policy of destruction to the rest of Georgia as he marched to Savannah. Before leaving on November 15, Sherman’s forces had burned the industrial district of Atlanta and left little but a smoking shell.


In the Atlanta Campaign, Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman commanded the Union forces of the Western Theater. The main Union force in the battle was the Army of the Tennessee, under Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson. He was one of the favorite commanders of Sherman and Ulysses Grant for being very quick and aggressive. Within Sherman's army, the XV Corps was commanded by Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, [5] the XVI Corps was commanded by Maj. Gen. Grenville M. Dodge, and Maj. Gen. Frank P. Blair Jr. commanded the XVII Corps. [6]

During the months leading up to the battle, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston had repeatedly retreated from Sherman's superior force. All along the Western and Atlantic Railroad line, from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Marietta, Georgia, a pattern was played and replayed: Johnston took up a defensive position, Sherman marched to outflank the Confederate defenses, and Johnston retreated again. After Johnston's withdrawal following the Battle of Resaca, the two armies clashed again at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, but the Confederate senior leadership in Richmond was unhappy with Johnston's perceived reluctance to fight the Union army, even though he had little chance of winning. Thus, on July 17, as he was preparing for the Battle of Peachtree Creek, Johnston was relieved of his command and replaced by Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood. [7] The dismissal and replacement of Johnston remains one of the most controversial decisions of the civil war. [8] Hood, who was fond of taking risks, [7] lashed out at Sherman's army at Peachtree Creek, but the attack failed, with more than 2500 Confederate casualties. [9]

Hood needed to defend the city of Atlanta, which was an important rail hub and industrial center for the Confederacy, but his army was small in comparison to the armies that Sherman commanded. He decided to withdraw, classically threatening Sherman's supply lines in his army's rear. Hood hoped his aggressiveness and the size of his still formidable force on-the-move would entice the Union troops to come forward against him, if only to protect their rear supply lines. The Union did not do so. McPherson's army closed in upon Decatur, Georgia, to the east side of Atlanta. Twice more in later campaigns, Hood would seek to lure the thrust of a Union axis of advance upon a position and/or force that he was commanding to seek an engagement. The Union's forces were not turned in those cases either. [ citation needed ]

Meanwhile, Hood ordered Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee's corps on a march around the Union left flank, had Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler's cavalry march near Sherman's supply line, and had Maj. Gen. Benjamin Cheatham's corps attack the Union front. However, it took longer than expected for Hardee to get his men into position, and, during that time, McPherson had correctly deduced a possible threat to his left flank, and sent XVI Corps, his reserve, to help strengthen it. [1] Hardee's men met this other force, and the battle began. Although the initial Confederate attack was repulsed, the Union left flank began to retreat. About this time, McPherson, who had ridden to the front to observe the battle, was shot and killed by Confederate infantry. [10] Confederate Maj. Gen. William H.T. Walker was also killed, shot from his horse by a Union picket.

Near Decatur, Brig. Gen. John W. Sprague, in command of the 2nd Brigade, 4th Division of the XVI Corps, [11] was attacked by Wheeler's cavalry. Wheeler had taken the Fayetteville Road, while Hardee's column took the Flat Shoals Road toward McPherson's position. The Federals fled the town in a stampede, but managed to save the ordnance and supply trains of the XV, XVI, XVII, and XX corps. With the failure of Hardee's assault, Wheeler was in no position to hold Decatur, and fell back to Atlanta that night. [12] Sprague was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. [13]

The main lines of battle now formed an "L" shape, with Hardee's attack forming the lower part of the "L," and Cheatham's attack on the Union front as the vertical member of the "L". Hood intended to attack the Union troops from both east and west. The fighting centered on a hill east of the city known as Bald Hill. The Federals had arrived two days earlier, and began to shell the city proper, killing several civilians. [12] A savage struggle, sometimes hand-to-hand, developed around the hill, lasting until just after dark. The Federals held the hill while the Confederates retired to a point just south of there. Meanwhile, two miles to the north, Cheatham's troops had broken through the Union lines at the Georgia railroad. In response, twenty artillery pieces were positioned near Sherman's headquarters at Copen Hill, and shelled the Confederates, while Logan's XV Corps regrouped and repulsed the Southern troops. [1]

The Union had suffered about 3,400 casualties, including Maj. Gen. McPherson, [5] to the Confederate's 5,500. [4] This was a devastating loss for the already reduced Confederate army, but they still held the city.

Sherman settled into a siege of Atlanta, shelling the city and sending raids west and south of the city to cut off the supply lines from Macon, Georgia. Both of Sherman's cavalry raids including McCook's raid and Stoneman's Raid were defeated by Confederate cavalry collectively under General Wheeler. Although the raids partially achieved their objective of cutting railroad tracks and destroying supply wagons, they were soon after repaired and supplies continued to move to the city of Atlanta. [14] [12] Following the failure to break the Confederates' hold on the city, Sherman began to employ a new strategy. He swung his entire army in a broad flanking maneuver to the west. [12] Finally, on August 31, at Jonesborough, Georgia, Sherman's army captured the railroad track from Macon, pushing the Confederates to Lovejoy's Station. With his supply lines fully severed, Hood pulled his troops out of Atlanta the next day, September 1, destroying supply depots as he left to prevent them from falling into Union hands. He also set fire to eighty-one loaded ammunition cars, which led to a conflagration watched by hundreds. [15]

On September 2, [7] Mayor James Calhoun, [16] along with a committee of Union-leaning citizens including William Markham, [15] Jonathan Norcross, and Edward Rawson, met a captain on the staff of Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum, and surrendered the city, asking for "protection to non-combatants and private property". [15] Sherman, who was in Jonesboro at the time of surrender, [15] sent a telegram to Washington on September 3, reading, "Atlanta is ours, and fairly won". [17] [18] He then established his headquarters there on September 7, where he stayed for over two months. On November 15, the army departed east toward Savannah, on what became known as "Sherman's March to the Sea". [7]

The fall of Atlanta and the success of the overall Atlanta Campaign were extensively covered by Northern newspapers, and were a boon to Northern morale and to President Lincoln's political standing. The 1864 election was between General George B. McClellan and Abraham Lincoln. McClellan ran a conflicted campaign: McClellan was a Unionist who advocated continuing the war until the defeat of the Confederacy, but the Democratic platform included calls for negotiations with the Confederacy on the subject of a potential truce. The capture of Atlanta and Hood's burning of military facilities as he evacuated showed that a successful conclusion of the war was in sight, weakening support for a truce. Lincoln was reelected by a wide margin, with 212 out of 233 electoral votes. [7]

Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson, who was one of the highest-ranking Union officers killed in action during the Civil War, was mourned and honored by Sherman, who declared in his official report:

His public enemies, even the men who directed the fatal shot, never spoke or wrote of him without expressions of marked respect those whom he commanded loved him even to idolatry and I, his associate and commander, fail in words adequate to express my opinion of his great worth. I feel assured that every patriot in America, on hearing this sad news, will feel a sense of personal loss, and the country generally will realize that we have lost, not only an able military leader, but a man who, had he survived, was qualified to heal the national strife which has been raised by designing and ambitious men. [19]

Despite the damage caused by the war, Atlanta recovered from its downfall relatively quickly as one observer noted as early as November 1865, "A new city is springing up with marvelous rapidity". [20] [21] Within a week of the fall of Atlanta however, Sherman had issued all non-military personnel out of Atlanta. Reportedly he remembered the cities of Memphis and Vicksburg which became a burden immediately after victory, so he told the civilians specifically to go north or go south. A truce of sorts was quickly established at a town nearby called Rough And Ready with General Hood, where Union and Confederate prisoners were in small numbers exchanged and civilians wishing to go south could get help to that end. [14]

Atlanta Riot of 1906

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Atlanta Riot of 1906, major outbreak of violence in Atlanta, Georgia, that killed at least 12 and possibly as many as 25 African Americans in late September 1906. White mobs, inflamed by newspaper reports of Black men attacking white women, burned more than 1,000 homes and businesses in the city’s African American neighbourhoods. Contemporary reports of the event suggest that police officers assisted, or at least did not stop, the actions of the mobs.

Although Atlanta was considered a relatively enlightened city in the post-Reconstruction-era South, racial tensions were high in the summer of 1906. Race had become a central issue in a heated campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, which would essentially determine Georgia’s next leader, as the Democratic Party was so dominant in the state in that period.

Clark Howell, the editor of The Atlanta Constitution, and Hoke Smith, the former editor of The Atlanta Journal, were running neck and neck for the nomination when Tom Watson, a prominent figure in local politics, made a deal with Smith. Watson promised to back Smith for the governorship if the candidate agreed to support disfranchisement laws that would make it very difficult for African American citizens to vote. Disfranchisement became a major issue in the campaign, and both candidates emphasized their “support” for white citizens.

In late summer, a series of racially inflammatory newspaper articles—some in papers affiliated with the candidates—began appearing. The articles reported what were almost certainly fictitious incidents of Black men attacking and raping white women. At a time when just looking at a white woman could send a Black man to jail, those reports incited deep animosity among the city’s whites. During the summer, white citizens called for a law that would allow lynching, while reports of a Black crime wave worried wealthy white Atlanta citizens.

Tensions came to a head on the evening of September 22, 1906, when white mobs descended on the Brownsville district of Atlanta, set buildings ablaze, and savagely and randomly beat Black men. An illustration on the front page of the French newspaper Le Petit Parisien from October 1906 depicted African Americans running away from mobs of angry whites.

Although tensions eventually subsided, Atlanta’s African American community was economically decimated. It took years for the thriving Black neighbourhoods to be rebuilt and the businesses reestablished.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Adam Augustyn, Managing Editor, Reference Content.

Our fact-check sources:

  • The Tulsa Race Riot A Report by the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921
  • Tulsa Historical Society and Museum website, 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
  • Scott Ellsworth, "Death in the Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921"
  • Interviews with historians Scott Ellsworth and Albert Broussard Paul Gardullo, curator at the Smithsonian's African American Museum of History
  • Smithsonian Magazine, "A Long-Lost Manuscript Contains a Searing Eyewitness Account of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921"
  • Oklahoma History Center, Tulsa Race Riot 1 Day Lesson
  • New York Magazine, "Oklahoma Will Require Its Schools to Teach the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921"
  • McGraw-Hill, Overview of Experience History: Interpreting America's Past
  • Smithsonian Magazine, "The East St. Louis Race Riot Left Dozens Dead, Devastating a Community on the Rise"
  •, Los Angeles Riots

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Ødelæggelsen af ​​Atlanta begynder

På denne dag i 1864 beordrer unionsgeneral William T. Sherman forretningsdistriktet Atlanta, Georgien, ødelagt, før han går i gang med sin berømte marts til havet.

Da Sherman fangede Atlanta i begyndelsen af ​​september 1864, vidste han, at han ikke kunne forblive der længe. Hans spændende forsyningslinje løb fra Nashville, Tennessee, gennem Chattanooga, Tennesse, derefter hundrede miles gennem det bjergrige nordlige Georgien. Hæren, han netop havde besejret, Army of Tennessee, var stadig i området, og dens leder, John Bell Hood, svingte rundt i Atlanta for at forsøge at skade Shermans livline. Endnu større bekymring var det konfødererede kavaleri af general Nathan Bedford Forrest, en strålende kommandør, der hurtigt kunne slå mod jernbaner og flodtransporter, som Sherman var afhængige af.

American Civil War

General Sherman's march through the state of Georgia from Atlanta to Savannah was one of the most devastating blows to the South in the American Civil War. Not only did he take control of Atlanta, a major railroad hub, and Savannah, a major sea port, but he laid the land between Atlanta and Savannah to waste, destroying all that was in his path.

Prior to his famous march to the sea, General Sherman led 100,000 men into the southern city of Atlanta. He defeated Confederate General John Hood at the Battle of Atlanta on July 22, 1864. He had a lot more soldiers than General Hood who only had 51,000. General Sherman finally gained control of the city of Atlanta on September 2, 1864.

The March to Savannah

After establishing control of Atlanta, General Sherman decided to march to Savannah, Georgia and take control of the sea port there. He was well into enemy territory, however, and didn't have supply lines back to the north. This was considered a risky march. What he decided to do was live off the land. He would take from the farmers and livestock along the way to feed his army.

General Sherman also decided that he could hurt the Confederacy even further by destroying cotton gins, lumber mills, and other industries that helped the Confederate economy. His army burned, looted, and destroyed much that was in their path during the march. This was a deep blow to the resolve of the Southern people.

During the march, Sherman divided up his army in four different forces. This helped to spread out the destruction and give his troops more area to get food and supplies. It also helped to confuse the Confederate Army so they weren't sure exactly what city he was marching to.

When Sherman arrived in Savannah, the small Confederate force that was there fled and the mayor of Savannah surrendered with little fight. Sherman would write a letter to President Lincoln telling him he had captured Savannah as a Christmas gift to the president.

Eyewitness to the Battle of Atlanta

In late July 1864, Major General William T. Sherman’s Union army closed in on General John B. Hood’s Confederate army defending Atlanta. On July 20 Hood lashed out against the Union right wing north of the city. Repulsed but undaunted, Hood turned to strike the Federal left wing, Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee, east of Atlanta. He deployed Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s corps northeast of the city and sent Lieutenant General William J. Hardee’s corps around McPherson’s left flank with orders to crush the Army of the Tennessee on the morning of July 22. Both corps were then to assail the rest of Sherman’s host.

Among the blue-clad soldiers moving against Atlanta was Major Thomas T. Taylor of Georgetown, Ohio. Twenty-seven years old and dashingly handsome, Taylor was a lawyer and sometime newspaper editor who had been with the 47th Ohio since the fall of 1861. During the opening phase of the Atlanta Campaign, Taylor had remained with his regiment, part of Major General John A. Logan’s XV Corps, Army of the Tennessee. In mid-May he had been placed in command of Brigadier General Morgan Smith’s divisional skirmishers, 15 companies in all. By July 22 he was highly adept in skirmish tactics, as will be seen in the following passage from the letter he wrote four days later to his wife, Netta, describing what he saw, experienced, and did during the Battle of Atlanta, ‘the most eventful day of this campaign.’ Taylor’s letters have been lightly edited for clarity.

An the morning as usual at daylight I went down to the skirmish line to learn the condition of things. Soon Gen’l Morgan L. Smith sent an order to move forward my line and feel the enemy. I pushed forward and soon began driving his [the enemy’s skirmish] line. At his skirmish pits I redressed it [Taylor’s own line] and advanced on his main works and soon drove his skirmishers in, but without giving them time to form I hurried forward with a shout and a volley which set the rebels skedaddling and a regiment of reserves in full and rapid retreat. In the main [out-lying] works I again dressed the line and pursued them, capturing a few prisoners and two lines of skirmish pits and drove them square into their [main] works and occupied with my line a portion of the corporation of Atlanta, not more than 600 yards from their forts. Here they served us with ‘minnies’ [mini bullets], case and solid shot and shells. I soon discovered where their skirmish pits were and made my line crawl forward in some places within 20 yards of them and build rail barricades. I found one set [of his own skirmishers] timid and awkward and I had to crawl up to a point where I wished a post, show them the bearings and range and help them build it … .

Their skirmishers were kept so close [to the ground] that I had only two wounded by musket balls. One solid shot knocked down a rail pile and buried the men under it. A Captain thought destruction had come and wished to retire but I make it a point never to give up my ground if my flanks are protected [and] so they rebuilt it. I sent back for shovels to dig good pits but our Division General was not at liberty to send them to us. Our men in authority appeared to think the enemy were evacuating Atlanta because they were moving columns to the left. About 9 or 10 a.m. Logan’s Senior Aide came out and I showed him how earnestly they [the Confederates] were working in town upon their fortifications and asked if it looked like an evacuation. He said no. I then asked him for tools, but they came not. Our Commanders appeared infatuated with the thought of evacuation of Atlanta.

After a time two regiments of infantry and a section of artillery were sent out as a second reserve. I laid down and got a good nap and awoke about 121/2 m. Just after I got up Lieut. [Adolph] Ahlers [of the 47th Ohio] and two men were wounded near me and I was struck with dirt, bark or something and Ahlers reported me wounded. My negro went to the rear with the horses, but came back. About 1 p.m. I moved to a high point in the line and sat down. Firing soon commenced and became very heavy on the extreme left and in the rear … .

Oh! how anxiously I listened and waited, how anxious for the cheers! The enemy cheered before [his] charges, our men cheered after repulsing [them]. For two hours they appeared to drive our line back until it was at almost right angles with my [the XV Corps’] line. Can you imagine how my heart throbbed, every pulsation grew more rapid. There I sat under a big oak tree…only 600 yards from the main line of [enemy] works, from which solid shot was being thrown and case & shells, too, with fearful rapidity at and over us. I was anxious not from fear, but dread that we might lose our advantage, the ground we had gained and again be compelled to retake it by charges. At three o’clock the tide of war seemed rolling back. I could not mistake those cheers and that firing–the enemy at last were checked and being driven oh, how rapidly. At 4 p.m. we had regained our old lines and the fighting on the left had subsided like a fierce rain & wind storm, [and] only gusts and sobs sounded in the ear.

My attention was called from this by a Captain saying: ‘Look, Major, look!’ What a grand sight–I was almost entranced by it. The enemy’s [Major General Thomas C.] Hindman’s Division of 25 regiments [commanded by Maj. Gen. John C. Brown] were moving out of the works and deploying in line of battle. How well they moved, how perfectly and how grandly did the first line advance with the beautiful ‘battle flags’ waving in the breeze [and] not an unsteady step nor a waver was perceptible in it. Anon they moved by the right flank, then halted and fronted and a second line was formed. I saw them complete it and an Officer rode a short distance from us to advance their skirmish line & [I] ordered several of the men to shoot him but they failed. I then saw the 4th Div [skirmish] line [to the left] break and run, called my line to attention and remained until I saw their line of battle approach within 250 yards of us.

By the retreat of the 4th Div. [skirmishers], my left was exposed and I marched back to my first reserve. Here I shall tell you that as soon as I saw the 2nd [Confederate battle] line form and the advance toward us begin, I sent back word. At the reserve we halted and again opened [fire] on the enemy, drove in his skirmishers and, when the line flanked us on the left and was within about fifty yards [I] rallied on the 2nd reserve. Here we made a fine little fight and broke their [skirmish] lines but being outflanked we were compelled to fall back. In making this distance part of the time I moved leisurely and part lively–picked up a canteen of coffee and moved for the [Union] works when some miserable [Southern] traitor with murder stamped on his countenance deliberately shot at me. But I was a little too far away & his bullet almost spent struck me a glancing blow in the muscles of my left thigh as I was lifting my leg to run. I knew if I was hurt it would bleed in my boot so I went on as rapidly as I could as other bullets were dropping too close to make it at all pleasant.

The rebels reformed and advanced upon our main line in three columns. Two columns moved up on our right…and were both after a heavy fire severely repulsed and took refuge behind some outbuildings and a large house where they reformed. About twenty yards from our works on the left of the rail and wagon roads is a ravine which at the railroad was so thick [with] undergrowth as to completely screen as well as protect an advancing column. The railway through our lines is built in a cut about 15 feet deep. On the left of the railway was a section of artillery occupying three rods [about 50 feet]. [The] width of cut at top [is] 3 rods [and] between cut & wagon road on right of railroad is a space four rods wide [65 feet], protected by a log earthwork terminating a few feet from the railway. The wagon road is almost two rods [33 feet] wide and on the right of this road was a section of artillery [two cannons] occupying about three rods more and all of this space of 15 rods had only one company in position [and only] one platoon [of] 16 men…was between the [artillery] section in the space between the wagon and rail roads. The cut was open and clear, nowhere was it occupied by troops nor blockaded, the wagon road was likewise open and unoccupied by works or troops. When Col. [Wells S.] Jones, 53rd Ohio, came for the reserve, he suggested to Genl’s Smith & [Brigadier General John] Lightburn the propriety of burning said outbuildings & placing his regiment in rear of this artillery to support it and shut the gaps, yet they disdained the proffer and they were not filled.

Concealed by the dense smoke of the artillery the first we saw of the third [enemy] column it was rushing in the gap in the wagon road around the low works between the rail & wagon roads and over the parapet at the guns. Every one was surprised but none thought of moving, the platoon between the guns fired and fought with bayonets & butts of their muskets, the other platoon lying down in the rear of it could not fire without killing their comrades and artillerists in their front. Some of the men [in the platoon] were bleeding at the ears and nose from the concussion, yet fought until all were killed, wounded and captured except four.

I started across the road to move the other platoon to make it effective when I happened to look at the upper end of the cut and saw a column of rebels deploying from it. This 2nd [Union] platoon was shut in by a line of fire on every side and to avoid capture retired. Simultaneously the whole line began to fall back. Gen’l Smith moved over to the right & Lightburn went off on a run. I heard no order given and after vainly trying to rally the men dashed into the woods, where on a small ridge I halted a few men and again tried to form [a line]. Then, hearing someone shouting halt, I went to the road supposing it was one of our officers trying to form the line. I came within five feet of a rebel officer on a white horse with a flag in his hand and a revolver in the other. I took this in at a glance, he said ‘Halt! we’ll treat you like men.’ I said, ‘Hell, stranger, this is no place for me to halt!’ and went for the bushes. I told a man at my elbow to shoot him. When I got out of his reach I went slow and got some men of the 47th to go down and run off two caissons which the artillery had abandoned. I then went down to the works. Lt. Col. Wallace & Capt. [Hananiah D.] Pugh [of the 47th Ohio] while striving vainly to form a line were captured, [Capt. Charles] Haltentof wounded and Adjt. [John W.] Duecherman wounded. Only four officers [of the 47th Ohio] were left.

I was relieved as Div. Picket Officer to take command of the regiment and reformed it very quickly and then was ordered forward and marched up the road some distance by the flank … . I [then] was ordered into line [and] to fix bayonets and to retake the works [with] one small company and [some men] from other regiments [who] joined me … . I advanced on the ‘double quick’ and got within a few feet of the works, when such was the hail storm of fire and bullets which swept over us that both flag staffs were shot off, the regiment’s standard was torn from the staff by the fragment of a shell, one color bearer killed, and a color corporal wounded, [and] others as a matter of course fell. Finding I was completely flanked [I] withdrew to avoid capture.

On account of an entanglement and the dense undergrowth in my rear, the command became separated. Meeting a line upon a ridge in the rear advancing I halted and with them made a second assault. A portion of the regiment under Capt. [Joseph L.] Pinkerton went to the right of the railroad. I kept on the left, we reached the point I reached in the first assault but were again compelled to fall back. This time we went to an open field when reforming as best we could, [then] again advanced. Upon reaching the crest of the first ridge the men halted and laid down to avoid the sheet of bullets which swept over … . I pushed through the line, dashed ahead, shouting, cheering and exhorting [but] only one man followed. I went fifty yards in this manner and finally halted and gave three lusty cheers, [then] without waiting I pushed on and in a moment had the pleasure to see that the line was hurrying [forward]. I soon struck another line [of Federal troops] on the left which had halted. I sent Capt. Pinkerton & Lieut. [William] Brachman with a portion of the regiment again on the right, while I with the rest of it and the remainder of [the men from other regiments] pushed up immediately on the left, pouring a continuous and deadly fire upon the enemy, driving them from their works and recapturing a section of artillery upon the left of the railway which the [Rebels] had turned upon us … .

Lightburn said we had disgraced ourselves. I told him ‘that was enough of that! I would show him whether we had.’ I had no idea that I had such determination, such stubbornness or strength. I was almost frantic, yet perfectly sane–directed the entire line. All the officers obeyed me and ran to me for advice and directions. I saw men perform prodigies, display the most unparalleled valor. One man, Joseph Bedol [Bedall] of Co. ‘D’, was surrounded and knocked by rebels, he came to, jumped up & wounded them and knocked a fourth down with his fist and escaped.

Dear, I would not write this to any other one as it seems egotistical, but is nevertheless true. The men of the Division give me credit for much more.

Following the Battle of Atlanta Sherman moved the Army of the Tennessee west of the city for the purpose of cutting the railroad to Macon, Hood’s sole remaining supply line. Hood countered by sending Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee’s corps to block this thrust while another corps under Lieutenant General A.P. Stewart swung around the Union right flank. Before Stewart could do this, Lee attacked on the morning of July 28, bringing on the Battle of Ezra Church. Two days later Taylor described to his wife what ensued:

Well dear, on the 28th of July we had another big fight … . After moving forward and occupying a part of the ridge, the enemy were discovered moving around the right. To check this I was ordered over on the right and deployed. This extension of the line only made them move further to the right but we dashed over an open field and [took up a] position on a road. Presently I saw a column of the enemy move from a wood a short distance in front, [then] pass up a ravine near my left and between the 53rd Ohio and the 47th. To prevent them from cutting me off, I moved out of the road & half way across the field behind the crest [of the ridge]. This movement thwarted their designs and after a heavy fire the column retired to the woods [beyond the ridge].

Again I advanced but shortened my line by moving obliquely to the left and connecting with the 53rd. We first took position about 10 a.m. and from that time had very lively work. After advancing to the fence [along the Lick Skillet Road] I placed men on posts of observation who discovered the enemy still moving to the right and likewise massing in our front. Of this I sent word to the Division Commander who said ‘Now I know it is so when Major Taylor sends word.’ After a short time the enemy made his appearance, this time moving from the woods, in line of battle and then moving by the flank in three or four columns. We held our position, firing heavily and doing much execution but finding them too heavy to check we retired to the crest of the hill or ridge before mentioned where we made a stubborn stand from which we were driven by another forward movement of the enemy. This time they were moving by right of Co[mpanies] to the front, in columns of regiments, followed by a line of battle with bayonets fixed. This meant work and again we were compelled to retire. In the meantime we had been reinforced by one regiment [the 54th Ohio] but it was impossible to withstand this avalanche of bayonets and again we retired.

I halted behind a fence in the skirt of the woods and gave one shot [volley]. [Then] Col. [name illegible] hollored to look out or I would be cut off as they [the Confederates] were rushing up a hollow passing in our rear. At the same time I received notice from the right and beheld a [Confederate] column…both on the left and right, the enemy converging [and] leaving us a gap only about two or three hundred yards in width to escape through. All three regiments hurried through this and escaped the enemy [by] only about 50 yards … .

Our [new] line was formed upon [a ridge] at least half a mile from the line [just abandoned] and as it afterwards turned out this move of ours saved the day. Immediately upon gaining this ridge we reformed…as best we could behind the yard and garden fences and fought the enemy as they charged our position. We maintained our ground until they moved right up to us and pressed us over the hill by superiority of numbers but we were not yet defeated … . Every officer and man in the Division knows me and will fight under my orders, therefore, I began rallying men and officers and started after a gallant Captain of the 53rd Ohio up the hill, leading a varied lot of men and shouting and cheering to the best of my ability and having every one do likewise … .

We took possession of the hill and I got a color bearer of the 54th & one of [the] 53rd Ohio and rushed to the garden fence through a perfect storm of bullets and exhorted but only three or four ventured to follow, as the rebels, deeply chagrined to think so small a force had made them yield such a position gave us volley after volley which made us move from the garden fence to a less exposed position … .

We then had a little independent fight of our own–four regiments under Col. Jones, 53rd Ohio. [The fourth regiment was the 37th Ohio]. He arranged our lines so as to give us complete cross fire over every part of the ground in our front. This we had to do as our four regiments were compelled to hold over a mile of space and we had many gaps and this was the only way by which we could defend them, [because] across these gaps we had only small skirmish lines. This occurred about noon [according to Confederate reports it was much later than that]. After this time the enemy made four successive assaults my men fought from open ground, almost as clear as our yard except [for] a few brush [heaps] which I [had] piled up in front of the lines to offer some slight obstacle to their approach … .

At half past three we were relieved by the 81st Ohio and at 5 p.m. again went on duty. We lost ten wounded and three captured. The Commander of the III Division [Harrow’s] thanked me and said he believed my fire had saved him twice.

I never saw more stubborn assaults & more bloody repulses. Three times they were compelled to go back and leave colors standing on the field. We soon learned that the same Division [Brown’s] was in our front that charged us a few days ago and we did our best to repay them for the heavy loss which was inflicted upon us by them on that occasion. How well we accomplished this you can judge when I tell you they left 300 dead in our front, [and] altogether we buried 900 of them in front of the 15th A.C. after they had been most of the night engaged in removing their killed and wounded…

The 53rd & 47th Ohio brought on the whole affair. [If] I can, the General [Smith] said, be recommended for Colonel, he will do so and he says the Generals above him will take pleasure in recommending me … .A rebel officer, a prisoner taken on the 28th inst. said ‘Hood has about enough [men] left to make two more killings.’ Co. ‘F’ [Taylor’s former company] had William Weber [from Georgetown] slightly wounded by an explosion of his load by ramming. I can’t give you any more particulars. Wait until I get home.

Taylor next fought in the Battle of Jonesboro (August 31-September 1), which resulted in Hood evacuating Atlanta. Starting on November 15 Taylor participated in Sherman’s March to the Sea until December 13, when during the storming of Fort McAllister outside of Savannah a bullet sliced off his right index finger. This ended his combat career but not his wartime letters to his wife, which by the time he was mustered out in July 1865 totaled nearly 300.

May 31, 1921: Tulsa Massacre

One of the most violent episodes of dispossession in U.S. history began on May 31, 1921 in Greenwood, a thriving Black neighborhood in Tulsa , Oklahoma. . . .

From May 31 through June 1, deputized whites killed more than 300 African Americans. They looted and burned to the ground 40 square blocks of 1,265 African American homes, including hospitals, schools, and churches, and destroyed 150 businesses. White deputies and members of the National Guard arrested and detained 6,000 Black Tulsans who were released only upon being vouched for by a white employer or other white citizen. Nine thousand African Americans were left homeless and lived in tents well into the winter of 1921. . .

This assault was met by a brave but unsuccessful armed defense of their community by some Black World War I veterans and others.

This description is by Linda Christensen of Rethinking Schools in the introduction to her lesson, “Burning Tulsa : The Legacy of Black Dispossession.”

She goes on to describe why and how she and her colleagues teach about the Tulsa Massacre (often described in textbooks as a “race riot”):

We didn’t want students to get lost in the history of Tulsa, though it needs to be remembered we wanted them to recognize the historical patterns of stolen wealth in Black, brown, and poor communities. We wanted them to connect the current economic struggles of people of color by staying alert to these dynamics from the past. We wanted them to see that in many ways Tulsa and other Black communities are still burning, still being looted.

Smoke over burning buildings in Tulsa, Oklahoma during massacre of 1921. Source: Library of Congress.

Related Story from Democracy Now!

FEBRUARY 08, 2000: After two years of meetings, the Tulsa Race Riot Commission recommended Friday that direct payments be made to survivors and descendants of riot victims. The 11-member panel also called for a memorial to the dead, scholarships and a tax checkoff program to fund economic development in the Greenwood district. View full story.

This is sadly one of countless massacres in the history of the United States. Most of these massacres were designed to suppress voting rights, land ownership, economic advancement, education, freedom of the press, religion, LGBTQ rights, and/or labor rights of African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, and immigrants. While often referred to as “race riots,” they were massacres to maintain white supremacy.

Find more resources below to teach about the Tulsa Massacre (including “Burned Out of Homes and History: Unearthing the Silenced Voices of the Tulsa Massacre“) and the related events of Red Summer, 1919.

Related Resources

Burned Out of Homes and History: Unearthing the Silenced Voices of the Tulsa Massacre

Teaching Activity. By Linda Christensen. Rethinking Schools.
Teaching about racist patterns of murder, theft, displacement, and wealth inequality through the 1921 Tulsa Massacre.

Repair: Students Design a Reparations Bill

Teaching Activity. By Ursula Wolfe-Rocca. In this activity, students take on the role of activist-experts to improve upon a Congressional bill for reparations for Black people. They talk back to Congress’ flimsy legislation and design a more robust alternative.

Burning Tulsa: The Legacy of Black Dispossession

Article. By Linda Christensen. If We Knew Our History Series.
Students need to learn the hidden history of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre and how this links to racial wealth inequality today.

Remembering Red Summer — Which Textbooks Seem Eager to Forget

The racist riots of 1919 happened 100 years ago this summer. Confronting a national epidemic of white mob violence, 1919 was a time when Black people defended themselves, fought back, and demanded full citizenship in thousands of acts of courage and daring, small and large, individual and collective.

Teaching for Black Lives

Teaching Guide. Edited by Dyan Watson, Jesse Hagopian, Wayne Au. 368 pages. 2018. Rethinking Schools.
Essays, teaching activities, role plays, poems, and artwork, designed to illuminate the movement for Black students’ lives, the school-to-prison-pipeline, Black history, gentrification, intersectional Black identities, and more.

Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre

Book – Picture book. By Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Floyd Cooper. 2021. 32 pp.
This children’s book centers the history of the thriving Black community of Greenwood before the 1921 Tulsa Massacre.

If We Must Die: A Novel of Tulsa’s 1921 Greenwood Riot

Book – Fiction. By Pat Carr. 2002. 166 pages.
Historical fiction account of the 1921 attack on Tulsa’s Black neighborhood Greenwood, known as “Black Wall Street.”

Dec. 9, 1864: Ebenezer Creek Massacre

People who had escaped from slavery and were following the Union Army, were blocked from crossing the Ebenezer Creek, leading to their death.

April 13, 1873: Colfax Massacre

The KKK carried out the Colfax Massacre in response to a Republican victory in the 1872 elections.

July 8, 1876: Hamburg Massacre

A Black militia was accused of blocking a road and punished with the Hamburg Massacre. This was Reconstruction era voter suppression.

Aug. 5, 1896: Polk County Massacre

White workers murdered Black workers in Arkansas who were coming to work on the railways.

July 29, 1910: Slocum Massacre in Texas

Citizens in the small, predominately African American town of Slocum, Texas, were massacred.

Sept. 30, 1919: Elaine Massacre

Black farmers were massacred in Elaine, Arkansas for their efforts to fight for better pay and higher cotton prices. A white mob shot at them, and the farmers returned fire in self-defense. Estimates range from 100-800 killed, and 67 survivors were indicted for inciting violence.

Jan. 1, 1923: Rosewood Massacre

The Rosewood Massacre was the white supremacist destruction of a Black town and the murder of many of its residents.

A Very Abbreviated History of the Destruction of Black Neighborhoods

If you only care about black communities when someone picks up a brick, you don't care at all.

On May 13, 1985, police fired tear gas, water cannons, and 10,000 rounds of ammunition into 6221 Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia. Then, from a helicopter, officers dropped onto the building a satchel bomb, the kind used in World War II and Vietnam. Inside the home were seven adults and six children, members of the eco-minded black liberation group, MOVE. Only two people survived. One of the five children who burned was 12-year-old Little Phil Africa. Seven years earlier, his three-week-old brother was killed after being knocked out of his mother&rsquos arms and crushed during an altercation with police. After the bombing, a fire broke out that claimed 61 surrounding buildings and left 250 people homeless in the middle-class black neighborhood. The houses built to replace them were &ldquotissue paper&rdquo shoddy, and the contractors tasked with replacing them served jail time for misusing the rebuilding fund. By the mid 2010s, more than half of the rebuilt homes sat boarded up, purchased by the city for $150,000 each.

From the 1920s to the 1970s, chemical companies made polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in Anniston, Alabama. The compounds were used as lubricants and insulators in electrical machinery. They also cause cancer and damage brain structures in humans, and were banned in the U.S. in 1979. But by then, more than 800 tons of PCBs had been released into a local canal, 32,000 tons more into the city&rsquos open landfill. Within the majority black city, black neighborhoods were hardest hit by the pollutants. Today, creeks still run red, and there are &ldquodead zones&rdquo where vegetation cannot grow. Even young people contend with cancer and other illnesses&mdashthe brother of one local activist died of lung and brain cancer at just 16. In 2003, residents won a lawsuit against Monsanto worth hundreds of millions, but each of the more than 18,000 complainants only received a few thousand. Adults, saddled with homes they could not sell, were awarded $9,000 each, while children contending with the possibility of a lifetime of intellectual disabilities and health struggles were given just $2,000. Some of the funds created a clinic to treat the still-suffering Anniston residents. It ran out of money and folded in 2017.

In 1921, white mobs descended on Tulsa, Oklahoma&rsquos prosperous Greenwood neighborhood. They murdered more than 300 black residents, and burned homes, shops, and local institutions ranging from schools to movie theaters. Entire city blocks evaporated, as well as the contemporary equivalent of tens of millions of dollars in black property and wealth. Nine thousand out of a total of 11,000 Greenwood residents were left homeless. After living in a black community so affluent that it had been dubbed &ldquoBlack Wall Street,&rdquo thousands spent the following winter living in tents in an internment camp.

In November 1898, a white supremacist mob stormed the majority black and racially integrated city of Wilmington, North Carolina, and burned the office of a black newspaper. They marauded through the streets, killing as many as 100 black residents. The mayhem was all part of a carefully planned effort to overthrow the local government, which included black aldermen and other officials and civil servants. It still stands as the only successful coup in American history. Black residents retreated into swamps and woods on the outskirts of town to escape the white mob. Around 2,000 left for good, leaving the city majority white.

In 1855, New York&rsquos Seneca Village was a largely-black settlement with around 225 members. The Upper Manhattan community included an economic mix of people who lived in everything from shanties to two-story homes. They owned livestock, and were shielded from the racism in more developed parts of the city. Some black people owned property, which afforded them the right to vote: 10 of the 100 eligible black voters in the entire state in 1845 were residents of Seneca Village. By 1857, the community was gone, its land acquired through eminent domain to create Central Park.

These are anecdotes of literal, physical destruction of black communities, but while the carnage can be as unmistakable as bombs falling from the sky, it more often takes the form of slower-burning ravages wrought by economic starvation, over policing, educational deprivation, and mass incarceration. American history is littered with the destruction of black communities.

A multiracial group of protestors have taken to the streets across America in the wake of George Floyd&rsquos murder. And yet they are accused of being black people destroying their own communities, just as black people were condemned for Watts in 1965, Chicago and other cities after Dr. Martin Luther King&rsquos murder in 1968, and Los Angeles in 1992. Aside from the horrifying way that white America seems to be more scandalized by the destruction of stores and police stations than the destruction of lives, the insincerity of this newfound concern for black neighborhoods is obvious. It only ever seems to be activated when a black person picks up a brick. Black neighborhoods have been bulldozed and bombed, burned to the ground and made toxic to those who live in them. If you don&rsquot care about that more than you care about a Target, you don&rsquot care at all.

Civil War Journals, Diaries, and Memoirs

Eliza Frances Andrews, The War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl, 1864-1865, ed. Spencer Bidwell King Jr. (1908 reprint, Macon, Ga.: Ardivan Press, 1960).

Dolly Lunt Burge, The Diary of Dolly Lunt Burge, 1848-1879, ed. Christine Jacobson Carter (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006).

Sarah "Sallie" Conley Clayton, Requeim for a Lost City: A Memoir of Civil War Atlanta and the Old South, ed. Robert Scott Davis Jr. (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1999).

Garold L. Cole, Civil War Eyewitnesses: An Annotated Bibliography of Books and Articles, 1955-1986, vol. 1 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988).

Garold L. Cole, Civil War Eyewitnesses: An Annotated Bibliography of Books and Articles, 1986-1996, vol. 2 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2000).

Kate Cumming, Kate: The Journal of a Confederate Nurse, ed. Richard Barksdale Harwell (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998).

Thomas G. Dyer, Secret Yankees: The Union Circle in Confederate Atlanta (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999).

Louisa Warren Fletcher, Journal of a Landlady: The Fletcher/Kennesaw House Diary, ed. Henry Higgins, Connie Cox, and Jean Cole Anderson (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Professional Press, 1995).

Joseph T. Glatthaar, The March to the Sea and Beyond: Sherman's Troops in the Savannah and Carolinas Campaign (New York: New York University Press, 1985).

Joel Chandler Harris, On the Plantation: A Story of a Georgia Boy's Adventures during the War (1892 reprint, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1980).

Fannie Oslin Jackson, On Both Sides of the Line (Baltimore, Md.: Gateway Press, 1989).

Robert H. Kellogg, Life and Death in Rebel Prisons (1865 reprint, Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1971).

John L. Ransom, John Ransom's Andersonville Diary, ed. Bruce Catton (Middlebury, Vt.: P. S. Eriksson, 1986).

Samuel Pearce Richards, Sam Richards's Civil War Diary: A Chronicle of the Atlanta Home Front, ed. Wendy Hamand Venet (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009).

Mary D. Robertson, ed., "Northern Rebel: The Journal of Nellie Kinzie Gordon, Savannah, 1862," Georgia Historical Quarterly 70 (fall 1986): 477-517.

William T. Sherman, "War Is Hell": William T. Sherman's Personal Narrative of His March through Georgia, ed. Mills Lane (Savannah, Ga.: Beehive Press, [1974]).

Susie King Taylor, Reminiscences of My Life in Camp: An African American Woman's Civil War Memoir (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2006).

Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, The Secret Eye: The Journal of Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, 1848-1889, ed. Virginia Ingraham Burr (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990).

Watch the video: Blood and Glory: The Civil War in Color: Shermans March to Savannah. History (May 2022).