150 Years Ago This Week: “Fairly won.”

August/September 1864

On Sunday, Aug. 28, in Charleston Harbor, S.C., the Union forces made an attempt to “shake” the remaining walls of Fort Sumter to pieces by sending a raft loaded with powder across the waters to the fort. The effort failed when the raft exploded harmlessly, doing no damage to the crumbling fortress.

The same day, in Georgia, the armies of Maj. Gen. William Sherman were advancing on the rail center at Atlanta. Maj. Gen. George Thomas and his Army of the Cumberland reached Red Oak, on the Montgomery and West Point Railroad; Maj. Gen. Oliver Howard and the Army of the Tennessee were posted around Fairburn, on the same rail line.

Maj. Gen. John Schofield and the Army of the Ohio was posted near Mt. Gilead Church. Maj. Gen. Henry Slocum, commanding the Twentieth Corps, had his troops holding the Union lines around the city. It was now just a matter of time. In Atlanta, the citizens were petrified, not knowing what the Federals would do, and wondered where Gen. John B. Hood’s Confederates were — and if they could drive off the Union forces.

There was a new Confederate expeditionary force established in the Trans-Mississippi Department under Maj. Gen. Sterling Price; he assumed command on Aug. 29 and his plans were to attempt to recover the State of Missouri for the Confederacy.

While Gen. Sherman’s troops began moving into position to take Atlanta, and while Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Army of the Shenandoah moved south from Harpers Ferry, the Democratic National Convention met in Chicago to nominate a candidate who could defeat Abraham Lincoln and settle the war issues.

August Belmont of New York told the convention: “Four years of misrule by a sectional, fanatical and corrupt party have brought our country to the verge of ruin.” Committees were formed and the men got to work. It seemed that Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, former commander of the Union Army of the Potomac and a favorite of the troops, was the most prominent name discussed as a candidate.

The next day, the Democrats adopted a platform and placed the names of George McClellan and Thomas Seymour, former governor of Connecticut, were placed in nomination. Former President Franklin Pierce and Sen.L. W. Powell of Kentucky withdrew theirs. The platform called for peace and fidelity to the Union under the Constitution. The Lincoln administration, the Democrats said, disregarded the Constitution and had trodden public liberty and private rights.

On Aug. 31, the convention voted, and George McClellan was nominated for president, receiving 202.5 votes on the ballot, with George Pendleton of Ohio receiving the vice presidential nomination. Back from exile, former Ohio Congressman and notorious Copperhead Clement Vallandigham moved that Gen. McClellan’s nomination be unanimous, and it passed.

South of Atlanta on the last day of August, at Jonesborough, two corps of the Confederate Army of Tennessee attacked the entrenched Federals under Gen. Howard. Initially a strong drive, the attack was finally repulsed when the Southerners could not carry the advantage. At the same time, Gen. Schofield’s army cut the last remaining rail line into Atlanta. Gen. Sherman ordered Gen. Slocum to get his troops into the city that night, if possible.

On Thursday, Sept. 1, explosions and fires broke out at night all around Atlanta’s railroad yards and depot as Gen. Hood ordered his army to evacuate the city. There was severe fighting on this second day at Jonesborough, and two Confederate brigades were almost entirely wiped out.

On Friday, Sept. 2, Gen. Sherman telegraphed Washington: “Fairly won,” to indicate that the Union armies had finally taken Atlanta, second only in importance to the Confederacy to Richmond. The Army of Tennessee retreated as far as Lovejoy’s Station, when Gen. Hood received word that Union troops were in Atlanta.

Arthur Candenquist
About Arthur Candenquist 194 Articles
A long-time historian, researcher, lecturer and author, Arthur Candenquist serves as secretary-treasurer of the Rappahannock County Sesquicentennial Committee. He can be reached at AC9725@cs.com.