On The Eve Of War: Atlanta, Georgia

“A slight perceptible odor of Yankeedom.”

This is how someone characterized Atlanta at the time of the war. The disparagement reflected the bustling business air about the city: clanking railroad cars, up-and-coming factories, thriving commercial center with plenty of merchants, tradesmen, shops and stores.

It’s the city one reads about in the Atlanta Daily Intelligencer, arguably the largest newspaper in town. In the week before Fort Sumter, one sees that a lot was going on.

On April 5, the paper announced that D. Mayer, a dealer in gentleman’s clothing, had moved his store to a “new brick building on Whitehall Street.” The Whitehall/Alabama Street intersection was the heart of Atlanta’s business district. Three and a half years later, a map prepared by Union officers of downtown, noting which areas were to be destroyed before Sherman’s army headed out for the sea, stated simply that this section of Whitehall Street, just south of the railroad, was labeled “Brick Block.”

The Atheneum theater on Decatur Street was the city’s only auditorium, so in it Confederate Congressman Ben Hill delivered a stemwinding speech on April 4. The place was packed “from pit to dome,” reported the Intelligencer, which printed Hill’s address two days later. “I believe it to be the best Government that the sun ever shone upon,” Hill declared, speaking of the newly formed administration in Montgomery. Hill did not believe that Southern secession would bring on war with the North. Not only that, but “I predict that in five years from this time, three-fourths of the Northern people will be in favor of extending slavery to the Canada line.”

[So much for bold predictions; in five years the South lay prostrate in defeat. And take note, all of thee who say slavery had nothing to do with the War.]

Of course, regiments were already being formed across the South. The Intelligencer (April 9) reported on the departure of some Georgia units heading for Pensacola—which was viewed at the time as much of a tinder-box as Fort Sumter in Charleston. “Every man of the Brown Infantry [named for Georgia’s governor, Joseph E.] was well equipped by the State and by his own liberality,” the paper reported, “for in walking around it was common enough to see a bowie knife or a revolver sticking in their belts.”

War preparations were evident daily. On April 8, a train passed through the city on which could be seen three ten-inch Columbiads, cast by Tredegar in Richmond and bound for Savannah. “A large crowd of our citizens assembled on Whitehall street to take a view of the monsters of war,” as reported by the newspaper.

Who says infomercials are an invention of the current times? On Thursday, April 11, the Intelligencer gave a plug to a local vendor:

We would call attention of our readers to the advertisement of
Mr. James W. Birth, Photographist and Artist lately of Washington City.
Give him a call!

Editor’s note: Steve Davis and his co-author Bill Hendrick have written their book, The Atlanta Daily Intelligencer Covers the Civil War: A Foray into Confederate Culture. It’s scheduled for publication by the University of Tennessee Press next year.

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