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The Famous Cyclorama Of The Great Battle Of Atlanta
There have been few more desperate fights than the one in which John B. Hood vainly tried to block the invasion of the South
February 1956 | Volume 7, Issue 2
Hood at least would fight. That was the big thing about him. He was a tall man with a long blond beard and an odd, sad, hound-dog look in his eyes; an uncomplicated soldier whose duel characteristic was a lurious, driving urge for combat. He was popularly known as “the gallant Hood,” and he lived up to the title in every battle, never knowing the shadow of physical Tear. Early in the war he had made his Texas brigade a combat unit of great fame. Later, as a division commander, he showed fondness for getting up in the front lines, and he got a crippled arm for his pains, at Gettysburg, when he got in the way of a Yankee grapeshot. In the fall of 1863 he had fought furiously at Chickamauga and had lost the greater part of one leg; badly crippled, he rode now strapped to his saddle, never free from the gnawing pain in the imperfectly healed stump of his thigh. He had been corps commander under Johnston during the long retreat down from Tennessee and in letters to Richmond he had voiced his impatience with an army commander who insisted on playing the waiting game. He was not “the gallant Hood” for nothing: to him, war meant unadulterated combat, and he was a man who would vote for a fight at all times.
Now he had his chance. The Confederate Army of Tennessee was given to him, and he understood perfectly that his government expected him to stop retreating and give battle. It suited him, down to the ground. When news of the change in command reached Sherman’s headquarters, old-army men who had known Hood at West Point warned Sherman that he was in for a scrap now.
So as the two armies ranged themselves close in front of Atlanta, the one thing everybody on both sides knew was that there would be no more feinting and jockeying for position. There would be a whale of a big fight, if not several fights, and if the Yankees got any closer to this important railroad and munitions center they would have to pay heavily for it.
As it turned out, there were several fights—Peachtree Creek, the Battle of Atlanta itself, and the Battle of Ezra Church. These three fights, as desperate and at times as costly as any battles which American armies have ever fought, turned out to be oddly indecisive (unless, indeed, they did vindicate foe fohnston’s notion that there was no profit in it, for the Confederate cause, in carrying the fight to the larger Union army). Sherman did not enter Atlanta just then; after the fights he settled clown to something very like a siege, taking advantage of his superior numbers to keep extending his lines to his right, west and south of the beleaguered city, until at last he pulled Hood out of Atlanta and, on September 2, moved in and occupied the place once and for all.
The Battle of Atlanta, immortalized in the Cyclorama, was the second of the three savage fights that took place at the city’s gates. It was indecisive; in a way, both sides lost. Vet the net of the fight was probably a Union victory, for the battle resulted from Hood’s attempt to catch Sherman off guard and hit him so hard that he would have to give up his attempt at conquest and retreat toward the north, and this Hood finally was unable to do. He made his pitch and he failed, and when the three battles had ended Sherman put his larger armv into its trenches within gunshot of Atlanta and alter that it was a question of time.
But the battle itself was a tremendous affair of flame and smoke and bloodshed and death, with the Union cause coming perilously close to shattering defeat at times and with the enlisted men on both sides displaying an amazing heroism and endurance. If Hood made a losing gamble—paid lor, by both sides, with a total of probably more than 14,000 casualties—it was at least a good gamble, and for a time it looked very much like a winning one. And if the great circle of colored canvas in the Cyclorama building is spectacular, compelling and appealing, it is no more than the men of the two armies deserved. They are all gone now, victors and defeated alike, but the memory of what they did and what they went through has been caught and preserved, and it stands now on the walls of a neat building in a pleasant city park, something worth looking at by any American.
When Hood took command on July 17 he took over an army which, in effect, had been driven back into Atlanta itself. The Chattahoochee River, flowing from northeast to southwest, ran barely half a dozen miles away; Sherman had crossed it (a thing which Jefferson Davis believed Johnston should never have permitted), and if the city of Atlanta had had gates, in the old sense, Sherman could be said to be ready to knock on them. Hood called on fohnston. whom he had displaced, and asked what his plans had been; coldly (for he suspected Hood of undercutting him at Richmond) Johnston said that he believed it might be possible to smite the invader to advantage when the invader’s forces tried to get across Peach tree Creek, an inconsiderable stream that meandered east and west a lew miles north of the center of town. Then Johnston went away, and Hood addressed himself to his task.