Here’s what happened.
The Battle of Jonesborough (Jonesboro) was fought from August 31-September 1, 1864. It was the last in a series of clashes during the USA’s Civil War that are collectively remembered as the Atlanta Campaign.
Atlanta held tremendous strategic significance during the war. The aftermath of its capture would hold tremendous historical and symbolic significance.
Here’s why it mattered then.
Many Georgia politicians had at best reluctantly supported the state’s vote to leave the Union. While those representing wealthy slaveholders in rural plantations heartily endorsed secession and war, those representing urban areas such as Atlanta feared the devastation Union sieges could cause.
William Tecumseh Sherman confirmed their fears. Beginning in May 1864, many towns north of Atlanta were stripped of their resources to provide food and other supplies for Sherman’s troops. The loss of Marietta was particularly costly: General Leonidas Polk, one of the Confederacy’s most beloved figures, was killed there.
Here’s why it matters now.
The Atlanta Campaign also exposed the strained relations between the Confederacy’s political and military leaders. Confederate President Jefferson Davis replaced Joseph Eggleston Johnston, Sherman’s original foe, with John Bell Hood. Hood was more aggressive than Johnston but also more reckless—a strategic flaw that Sherman exploited.
Sherman’s attack from the north had begun in Chattanooga, Tennessee. However, using several deceptive, westward flanking maneuvers, he was eventually able to attack Atlanta from the south, where Hood’s position was weakest. Soldiers and civilians alike endured constant artillery bombardment. Hood’s forces retreated out of Atlanta on September 1; city leaders surrendered the next day. The Union controlled what would be left of the city for the rest of the war.
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Sherman’s March to the Sea revived the “art” of sacking and pillaging in ways that perhaps had not been seen in North America since the Spanish conquistadors. He left Atlanta in charred ruins, captured Savannah, and then literally blazed a destructive trail northward to join his friend Ulysses S. Grant in defeating Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. By the time Johnston was reinstated in 1865, Sherman’s advance was virtually unstoppable.
The Atlanta Campaign is immortalized in the Cyclorama, which was once the world’s largest painting. The phoenix and the word “RESURGENS,” as depicted on Atlanta’s flag and seal, symbolize the civic resolve that prevailed in the aftermath of the 1864 fires. That resolve was tested not only then, but also after the Great Fire of 1917 and the Winecoff Hotel disaster. Perhaps the most powerful illustrations of how the war changed Atlanta were the literary and theatrical versions of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind. “The Book” won a Pulitzer Prize in 1937; “The Movie” won 10 Academy Awards in 1940.
. . . And here’s an interesting fact!
Virtually unstoppable military advancement was the purpose behind one of the USA’s most powerful ground weapons during World War II. It was officially called the Medium 4 (M4), but was more popularly known as the Sherman Tank.