Civil War History

Explore Atlanta’s role in Civil War history

Atlanta’s Civil War history will never be forgotten. Hollywood immortalized it in “Gone With the Wind,” the classic 1939 film based on Margaret Mitchell’s world-famous novel of the same name. Against a backdrop of flames, Rhett Butler took leave of Scarlett O’Hara as the city of Atlanta burned down around them and they reflected on the American Civil War. The reality of Atlanta Civil War history was equally dramatic, though not nearly as romantic.

Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta GA

At the start of the Civil War in 1861, Atlanta was a city vital to Southern commerce and transportation. But its importance as a major railroad hub and center for manufacturing ultimately proved lethal to the Confederate stronghold. In September 1864, General William T. Sherman and his Union forces captured the city, a victory that helped secure President Abraham Lincoln’s bid for re-election the following November.

History of Battle of Atlanta Sign at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta GA

The victorious Union general ordered the burning of Atlanta and launched his March to the Sea, which left a 300-mile trail of destruction all the way to Savannah, Ga. Afterwards, the once-prosperous Atlanta lay in ruins, eventually rebuilding itself as a center for civil rights and cementing its stature as a vibrant economic powerhouse.

Swan House at Atlanta History Center

Atlanta’s Civil War History Sites

More than a century and a half later, there are numerous reminders of Atlanta Civil War history.

Atlanta History Center

Start your journey at the Atlanta History Center, where you’ll discover 33 acres of history including several historic homes and one of the best Civil War exhibits anywhere. “Turning Point: The American Civil War” is a stunning and thorough exhibit. One of  the Atlanta History Center’s most endearing relics is the diary of young Carrie Berry, who lived at the corner of Fairlie and Walton streets in downtown Atlanta during the Battle of Atlanta and wrote about hearing shells falling by her garden gate. 

“The pieces flew in every direction,” she wrote. “I was never so frightened in my life.” 

The Atlanta  History Center also operates the Margaret Mitchell House in Midtown. That two-acre campus features the house and apartment where Mitchell wrote her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Gone With the Wind,” an exhibit highlighting her life, an exhibit about the movie and a museum shop.

Atlanta Cyclorama

While you are at the Atlanta History Center, don’t miss viewing the Atlanta Cyclorama, the world’s largest panoramic Civil War oil painting. This massive painting of the Battle of Atlanta pulls you onto the battlefield of the afternoon of July 22, 1864, a crucial turning point in our nation’s Civil War when Union forces prevailed. Atlanta would fall on Sept. 2 that same year. 

From the viewing platform 15 feet up, you are instantly captivated as the battle unfolds before your eyes. 

The Atlanta Cyclorama is one of only 17 surviving cycloramas worldwide. These massive paintings were the motion pictures of their day — the late 19th century. The 42-foot-high painting was completed in 1886, with a diorama of miniature wagons, horses, Georgia red clay and lifelike Confederate and Union soldiers added in 1936. It weighs 9,334 pounds.

Historic Oakland Cemetery

Another stop on any American Civil War history itinerary is Historic Oakland Cemetery. It was from a hilltop here that General John B. Hood watched the Battle of Atlanta. The Confederate section is home to an estimated 6,900 dead, about 3,000 who are unknown. ”Gone With the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell is buried here, too.

Flowering Tree at Oakland Cemetery Atlanta

Other Atlanta Civil War history sites include Civil War cemeteries in nearby Marietta, Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park and the antebellum homes of Roswell, Ga. A larger-than-life granite carving at Stone Mountain Park acknowledges three of the Confederacy’s leaders: Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. 

Tour Civil War sites in and around Atlanta with our Civil War Legacy Itinerary.

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