One hundred fifty years ago today, on September 2, 1864, the South’s last hope of winning the Civil War died as Atlanta fell to Union forces under General William Tecumseh Sherman. The boost to the North’s morale made certain Lincoln’s re-election, which had looked unlikely earlier in the summer.Sherman’s triumph in many ways marked the emergence of the new American method of war—one that found echoes during the past century under the leadership of Pershing and Patton. As Sherman wrote to the Mayor of Atlanta, ordering the city’s evacuation and destruction for military reasons ten days later:
You might as well appeal against the thunder-storm as against these terrible hardships of war. They are inevitable, and the only way the people of Atlanta can hope once more to live in peace and quiet at home, is to stop the war, which can only be done by admitting that it began in error and is perpetuated in pride.
Sherman’s methods led to the March to the Sea and the Union’s total victory.The capture of Atlanta therefore meant the abolition of slavery. It also meant that, as Lincoln said at Gettysburg, “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”