One hundred and fifty years ago today, the battle for Atlanta ended with Confederate General John B. Hood exiting the city, destroying supply depots and burning ammunition rail cars on his way out. The initial battle had begun on July 22, 1864 with a siege of the city continuing through August.
Northern newspapers provided extensive, sometimes almost breathless, coverage during the campaign. Typically, headlines appeared as running updates like this one on July 20 in the Cleveland Daily Leader:
Apparently that day the news from Sherman’s march through the South spurred the “Glorious News from Atlanta” headline, although the Battle of Atlanta wouldn’t begin until the 22nd. At that time news was dispatched via telegraphic communications and these headlines were probably updated until just before the newspaper’s print deadline.
The official news of Atlanta’s fall (the city surrendered on September 2) didn’t begin appearing in newspapers until September 3. To Northerners, these were hopeful headlines – surely this must have been considered a major turning point in the war from the viewpoint of the general public. To Southerners, it was, of course, disheartening. In the days following the fall, headlines became increasingly bolder in declaring victory in Atlanta:
The results of the Southern campaign during the summer of 1864 energized the general public in favor of Lincoln and his running mate Andrew Johnson, even though some Democrats were calling for a truce with the Confederacy in order to curry favor with war-weary voters.
In early August, The Daily Kansas Tribune (Lawrence, Kansas) was already endorsing the Republican ticket which had been nominated at the convention in June:
Historians debate whether the fall of Atlanta was the most significant turning point in the Civil War. There were, of course, many battles which could have been considered turning points – Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg, New Orleans, Vicksburg. The headlines displayed above strongly suggest that the North’s spirits were lifted by the victory in Atlanta which was followed in November by the landslide re-election of Abraham Lincoln.
On August 23, 1864 President Lincoln recorded these thoughts:
This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be reelected. Then it will be my duty to so cooperate with the President-elect as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he cannot possibly save it afterwards.
Lincoln may have been discouraged on that day, but nine days later it appears his prospects for reelection improved significantly. Had Lincoln been defeated, the South would have considered that a strategic victory, albeit at the ballot box. Who knows which direction the war would have taken had Lincoln lost, since ultimately McClellan, prior to accepting the Democratic nomination, declined to endorse the idea of a truce.
Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!
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