The Famous Cyclorama Of The Great Battle Of Atlanta


In the distance there was a wooded hill, with a house where Sherman had his headquarters. Here Sherman watched the battle, McPherson’s lifeless body laid out not far away, a constant swarm of galloping staff officers and couriers forever coming and going with messages and orders; and from here, finally, the Confederate tide could be seen to ebb. The smokefilled afternoon deepened into dusk, and the battle finally tapered off-tapered off sullenly, with Pat CIeburne’s men still fighting with stubborn tenacity on the southern slope of Leggett’s Hill, until at last fresh Federal troops came in to drive them off. Full night came, at last, and the battle was over.

Hood had tailed in what he had tried to do—had failed by an extremely narrow margin, but had definitely Tailed. His men had killed McPherson and they had put McPherson’s whole army in imminent danger of destruction, but in the end McPherson’s men had rallied and held their ground. The casualty rolls were high, especially for the Confederates, who had done the attacking; exact figures are not available, but it is likely that Hood’s army lost, that day, close to 10,000 men, in killed, wounded and missing. The Federals reported their own loss at 3,722, which was probably a very conservative estimate.

After the battle, Hood drew his men back into his lines for another assault, and on July 28 he tried it again. His attack on July 22 may have persuaded Sherman that trying to hold the east-west line of the Georgia Railroad would be too costly, for immediately afterward Sherman moved his Army of the Tennessee in a great half circle, swinging it over to the west side of Atlanta. Hood attacked it there, near a little country meetinghouse known as Ezra Church, and once again the attack killed many men, temporarily gained a little ground, and at last was driven off in defeat. Al’ter that Hood made no further major attacks, and the two armies settled down to the grim business ot a siege, which ended as it was bound to end, early in September, with the capture of Atlanta.

Perhaps Joe Johnston was vindicated, after all. Hood had been called in to do some fighting, and he had done what he was expected to do—and his army had lost, in these fights, substantially more men than the Federals had lost, which was not the kind of mathematics the Confederacy could afford, since the Federal army was much larger to begin with and could command a bigger stream of reinforcements. Atlanta fell, in the end—whether sooner or later than might have been the case if Johnston had stayed in command, no man can tell—and the victory helped provide the stimulus to Northern morale which, that fall, re-elected Lincoln and spelled the final downfall of the Confederacy. From Atlanta, Sherman was to march in smoke and triumph to the sea; and toward the end of the year Hood took his long-suffering army up into Tennessee on a wild, doomed offensive, and saw it finally wrecked by George Thomas in a two-day battle at Nashville.

But the Battle of Atlanta is the big, spectacular set piece that draws the attention. It stands there today, an enormous painting 50 feet high by 400 feet long, running completely around the circular walls of the building that houses it. It is one of the world’s great battle paintings and with its panorama of smoky, flaming violence it commemorates one of America’s great battles, and it is there today to be seen by any American who cares to go and see a graphic re-creation of part of the price that was paid to keep America a single nation.

How the Cyclorama was painted