Atlanta fell on September 2nd and such was the importance of taking the city that Lincoln ordered a day of national rejoicing on September 5th 1864. It is what happened in Atlanta itself that remains one of the most controversial incidents of the American Civil War. Sherman ordered that any building that was of no use to the military should be destroyed and that the city was to be for the military only – not civilians. Grant encouraged Sherman to continue being aggressive.
September 1st: The whole of Sherman’s army was employed against Jonesboro. The Confederates here withdrew at night leaving behind 3,000 prisoners. There was little in the way of Sherman’s army now and the decision was taken to evacuate Atlanta. What the Confederate Army could not take with them was destroyed.
September 2nd: General Lee suggested that slaves could be used for the labouring tasks done by the Army of Virginia. This would free up non-slave labourers for combat.
The first Union troops entered Atlanta – men from the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry. Sherman sent a message to President Lincoln, “Atlanta is ours, and fairly won".
In Atlanta, Sherman ordered all civilians to leave. He wanted the city to be a purely military zone. He also ordered the destruction of any buildings other than private residences and churches.
September 5th: A national day of celebration. Louisiana, occupied by Union forces, voted to abolish slavery in the state.
September 8th: George B McClellan accepted the Democrat nomination to stand against Lincoln in the November election. However, the Republicans were reaping the rewards of the fall of Atlanta. Many also questioned why a major general would want to stand against the army’s commander-in-chief.
September 10th: Sherman received a message from General Grant urging him to continue with his aggressive offensive.
September 12th: Buoyed by Sherman’s success in Atlanta, Lincoln contacted Grant to urge him to be more aggressive against Lee. However, Grant was aware that Lee was facing major problems and that his army was becoming desperately short of men who were capable of fighting. His army was bolstered by men from General Early’s army but this left Early short of men in the Lower Shenandoah Valley. Early had 20,000 men to face a Union force of 43,000 men.
September 16th: Lee’s army ran out of corn and there was no obvious way his Army of Virginia could be supplied, especially as there were food shortages across the Confederacy. Lee was saved by a daring Confederate raid behind enemy lines that captured 2,400 head of cattle.
September 19th: General Early’s men were attacked by a much larger Union force at Winchester. Early lost a total of 3,921 men out of 12,000 while Union losses numbered 4,018 men out of 40,000 men. While General Sheridan, commander of the Union force that attacked Early could afford such losses, Early could not. Only a very skilled withdrawal by Early avoided a far greater number of losses.
September 23rd: Early weakened army embarked on a rapid withdrawal. They were not vigorously pursued.
September 24th: Crops in the Shenandoah Valley was destroyed on the orders of General Grant.
September 25th: What was left of Early’s army fell back to Brown’s Pass in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Jefferson Davis met with General Hood at Palmetto, Georgia, to discuss what they both agreed was the parlous state of the Confederate Army in the Western Theatre.
September 26th: Union forces attacked Early’s men in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
September 27th: Confederate guerrillas continued to unsettle Union forces in the South. Especially successful was Bloody Bill Anderson who looted the town of Centralia in Missouri.
September 29th: Grant started a major assault on Richmond.
September 30th: Union forces took three miles of land in just one day in their attack on Richmond. Lee with just 50,000 men to protect the city informed Davis in Richmond that his position was bleak. Lee survived by sending reserves to areas where a Union breakthrough looked the most likely. However, he knew that it was not the solution to the problems he was facing. Lee himself took command of several counter-attacks, which were successful. But he did believe that he was delaying the inevitable.