Georgia, U. S. A.

Atlanta old and new-The history of Atlanta
Atlanta Old and New: 1848 to 1868

Articles in this series:
Atlanta:Prehistory to 1847
Atlanta:1848 to 1868
Atlanta:1868 to 1879

Atlanta's first election in 1848 drew only 215 voters. They chose Free and Rowdy candidate Moses Formwalt over Moral Party candidate Jonathan Norcross. Each voter had to travel no more than a mile to get to Thomas Kil's general store, located near Five Points. Formwalt, in spite of the name of his party, did begin to move Atlanta forward during his term, as did the six city councilmen elected at the same time. Together they built sidewalks, improved roads, and moved the city cemetery from a small corner lot downtown to the outskirts of the city. This is today's Oakland Cemetery.

Norcross continued running his lumber business, pretty much realizing that time (and growth) was on his side. One key element of growth was communication. In 1849 the city got its first telegraph. Additionally, thanks to a major fire at Augustus Wheat's Livery that spread to his general store and other businesses, the city formed a volunteer fire department. To the east of Atlanta, Stone Mountain had been early competition. Each year they held the South Central Agricultural Society fair there, one year attracting famed showman P. T. Barnum. In 1850 the fair moved to the grounds on present-day Memorial Drive (it was renamed from Fair St.)

Then in 1851 a new election was held for mayor. Formwalt decided not to run, but Jonathon Norcross had an uphill battle. According to Atlanta historian Franklin Garrett, the election was so bitter that the city was lucky there were no fatalities. During Mayor Norcross's first term, Atlanta began a growth that, with the exception of the end of the Civil War, was simply astounding.

Railroads made Atlanta a major hub. Beginning with the Western and Atlantic and Georgia Railroad others joined at the expanding facility near the center of town. The Atlanta and LaGrange, the Macon and Western, and the Memphis and Charleston to name a few. Rapid expansion characterized not only Atlanta but the surrounding area and in 1854 the state legislature created a new political division within which the city of Atlanta was completely contained -- Fulton County. A combined county courthouse and city hall was built where the capital sits today.

As Atlanta grew more prosperous the number of slaves began to increase as well. Slave auctions became common starting in the early 1850's. The Atlanta Intelligencer, started as a weekly newspaper in 1849 became a daily newspaper in 1854. Within a year the streets were lit by gas lighting. Atlanta suffered only a glancing blow from the Panic of 1857. In the 1860 census, on the eve of the War Between the States, the city had 7,741 residents, about 25% of them slaves.

Victory at Manasas sent a shudder of southern joy into the hearts of the men and women in Atlanta. It would not last long. With a year rampant inflation and severe shortages impacted the growing city. Then in the northwest corner of the state came hope - Braxton Bragg and the Army of Tennessee had turned back the Union Army at Chickamauga. General Ulysses S. Grant turned the tables in Chattanooga and before long the Union Army was knocking at Atlanta's front door.

Serving as a military hospital from 1862 to 1864 the population swelled to 20,000 by the time William Tecumseh Sherman's army began the slow strangulation of the Gateway City. Spreading east, then closing in from the north, Sherman fought the Battle of Peachtree Creek and the Battle of Atlanta. Yet he had been unable to dislodge the Confederate Army from the transportation hub. He ordered his cavalry to ride - destroy the final rail link - which they could not accomplish. Fed up with their inability Sherman ordered 60,000 men to march in a dramatic sweep to a small town south of Atlanta, Jonesborough. Here the outnumbered Rebels fought a delaying action to give John Bell Hood enough time to evacuate Atlanta on September 1, 1864. The following day Jonathan Norcross was called on to surrender the city not to William Tecumseh Sherman but to Henry Slocum.

Sherman declared the city a military zone and ordered the civilians to leave. Mayor Norcross protested to no avail. The men, women and children had two choices, leave the city heading north or leave the city heading south. Once Sherman secured the area he set out to complete his orders: The destruction of the Confederate Army.

Atlanta Depot after Sherman destroyed it in November, 1864
Atlanta depot after the March to the Sea came through the city
Unfortunately for Sherman, General John Bell Hood had enough guts, daring and land to keep Sherman guessing for two months. Then Sherman came up with a bold plan of his own, The March to the Sea. Four days into the March to the Sea Sherman burned the city of Atlanta creating for himself two titles, "The Father of Modern Warfare" and "The Father of Urban Renewal."

With the United States Army leaving the city, the citizens could return, although Atlanta was merely a shell of its former self. All the railroads and depots had been destroyed, as had many of the other buildings. Shanty towns housed many of the citizens and slowly the engine of commerce once again began to move. Merchants returned with to the city with their stock. By Christmas Day, 1864, the city of Atlanta (back in Confederate hands) was giving thanks. The war was lost in May, 1865 and on June 27 the United States took control of the Military Department of Georgia, headquartered in Atlanta.

Two weeks later the city council made an extraordinary move - it declared that any law making "negroes guilty of crimes different from white people be repealed." Still, the growing community needed a bank. On September 2, 1865, General Alfred Austell and others formed the Atlanta National Bank. It opened for business 3 months later. An 1866 census revealed that 250 businesses had rebuilt or would complete rebuilding by the end of the year. Population had quickly returned to the 20,000 person mark.

Atlanta was occupied by the U. S. Army and would remain so until 1872. In 1868, however, a military move would change the Gateway City forever. Atlanta became the capital of the state of Georgia.

Articles in this series:
Prehistory to 1847
1848 to 1868

Archives of Fulton County

History of the area around Atlanta

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