The Civil War Picket asked Ken Johnston to write a two paragraph reflection for the sesquicentennial of the surrender of Atlanta.
Surrender of Atlanta Sesquicentennial
The surrender of Atlanta on September 2, 1864 can be (and has been) spoken of in terms of military, economic, or political significance—and rightly so on each count. The thing that stays with me, however, is the psychological significance. There had been major southern cities that were reclaimed by Federal authority before, but they tended to be cities where US military power was more easily projected along water ways by the US Army and Navy—places like New Orleans, Vicksburg, Nashville, Memphis, and Chattanooga (supplied along the Tennessee River). A southerner could take comfort, if so inclined, in the knowledge that Federal forces hadn’t penetrated into the deep heartland of the southern states with
boots on the ground. Atlanta changed that.
After the surrender of Atlanta no southern partisan could realistically maintain that a city—or home—was beyond the reach of the US military. A heavily fortified southern city, over one hundred miles past previous front lines, defended by one of the two principle field armies of the Confederacy had surrendered to an army that had marched overland into the heart of territory previously untouched by war. The message was clear:
you are not safe, your government can’t protect you. The psychological fall-out of fear, anxiety, and depression would be crippling to the Confederate war effort—and the surrender of Atlanta was but a prelude to the demonstration of power that General Sherman was soon to make.