“From Maine to California”

William Tecumseh Sherman, full-length portrait, facing front, right hand holding hat on back of chair (c. 1868; LOC: LC-USZ62-92344)

thanks for grasping the “vitals of the Confederacy”

150 years ago today was the day President Lincoln proclaimed as a day of Thanksgiving. The New-York Times saw it as a day that helped unite the states and parties and hoped it would remain a grand national holiday.

From The New-York Times November 25, 1864:

THANKSGIVING.; General Observance of the Day. ENTERTAINMENT TO THE SOLDIERS. Dinners at the Charitable Institutions. Sermons by Rev. Dr. Tyng, Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, Rev. Dr. Chapin, Rev. Dr. Mc-Clintock, Rev. Dr. Vermilye, Rev. Dr. Frothingham, Rev. Dr. Adams, Rev. Dr. Cox, and Others. Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Tyng. Sermon by Rev. Henry Ward Beecher. Sermon of Rev. Dr. Chapin. Sermon by Rev. Dr. McClintock. Sermon by Rev. Dr. Vermilye. Sermon by Rev. Mr. Frothingham. Sermon by Rev. Dr. Adams. Twenty-Fifth-Street Baptist Church. Sermon of Rev. Dr. Coxe. Sermon by Rev. Dr. Osgood. St. Patrick’s Cathedral. St. Joseph’s Church. St. Peter’s Church. Israelites. Soldiers’ Dinner at the New-England Rooms. The Battery Barracks. The Willet’s Point Hospital The New-York State Soldiers’ Home. Observance of Thanksgiving in Brooklyn Thanksgiving at the Brooklyn Navy-yard. Thanksgiving in Jersey City.

Yesterday was more generally observed as a national holiday than any preceding Thanksgiving day we remember. Stores were universally closed. The churches were opened and filled with devout worshipers. The charity of the citizens of New-York provided for the unfortunate poor a bountiful supply of those comforts which make the day a joyful one to them. The people of this city felt that it was a day of thankfulness and gratitude, not merely for the fatness of the annual turkey which graced the family table, but for comparative prosperity in all things. An exciting political contest has passed away and not left in its track the devastating effects of bloody strile, as many feared and a few hoped.

fat-soldiers (Harper's Weekly, December 3, 1864)


Victor and vanquished having buried their animosities, united in thanking God for the material prosperity of the country in the midst of a destructive war. Last Thanksgiving morning, the glorious victory of Chattanooga delighted loyal hearts. Yesterday the news that SHERMAN had grasped the vitals of the Confederacy, was an additional cause of gratitude to true men. President LINCOLN, by his proclamation, for the first time unites the States upon one general day of Thanksgiving. From Maine to California the day was kept as a festival, and around the reunion of families and friends, bright hopes were entertained that the next occasion of the kind might witness a united country returning thanks for freedom and peace. And those who gathered yesterday around their firesides, enjoying the comforts of home, after the luxuries of a good dinner, could not but feel happier at the thought that upon this day the brave defenders of those homes, in camps and fleets, had not been forgotten, but were also feasting upon the bounty of their friends. The day itself was fair and sunny, the extreme cold moderated to the bracing temperature of the Indian Summer, and the heavens smiled upon the happiness, the charities and the festal pleasures of the nation’s Thanksgiving. This custom of the New-England Pilgrims, at first confined to a few States, gradually spreading as it was adopted by others, has at last, in 1864, assumed the scope and standing of a grand national holiday, which, it is hoped, will be permanent and universally observed.

We give below our usual summary of the sermons delivered, and the observance of the day among the poor. …

The cartoon of the well-fed Union soldiers was published in the December 3, 1864 issue of Harper’s Weekly, which you can see at Son of the South, along with a Thomas Nast overview of the day that also promotes the idea of a more united nation (“United We Stand”) and a drawing by Winslow Homer of Union soldiers partaking in the wish-bone tradition.

James River, Va. Butler's dredge-boat, sunk by a Confederate shell on Thanksgiving Day, 1864 (LOC: LC-DIG-cwpb-01923)

“James River, Va. Butler’s dredge-boat, sunk by a Confederate shell on Thanksgiving Day, 1864″ (Library of Congress)

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From the Richmond Daily Dispatch November 22, 1864:

Killed in Bed by a shell.

–During Sunday night, forty-one shots were fired at the city of Charleston, and on Monday, thirty-one, up to 6 P. M. A man and wife, named John and Mary Mullany, were killed, about half-past 11 o’clock Sunday night, by a fragment of shell, which entered the room where they were sleeping, inflicting mortal wounds in the abdomens of the unfortunate couple. It is supposed they were killed almost instantly, but were not discovered until Monday morning, when they were found dead, locked together in each other’s arms.

Charleston December 1864 (by Robert Knox Sneden; LOC: http://www.loc.gov/item/gvhs01.vhs00307/)

December 1864

View of Charleston, South Carolina (photographed between 1861 and 1865, printed between 1880 and 1889]; LOC: LC-DIG-ppmsca-34950)

an unscathed part of Charleston (sometime between 1861 and 1865)

Civil War envelope showing American flag flying high over a burning Fort Sumter with message "Remember Fort Sumter! (between 1861 and 1865]; LOC:  LC-DIG-ppmsca-31709)


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“Our pits are in an awful condition”

A young man from Seneca County enlisted for one year in August 1864. Instead of the regiment he signed up for, he was sent to the “Orange Blossoms” from downstate. He was finding picket duty in front of Petersburg pretty disagreeable work.

From a Seneca County, New York newspaper on December 8,1864:

Letter from a Soldier.

NEAR PETERSBURGH, Nov. 21, 1864.

Petersburg, Va. View from center of Fort Sedgwick looking south (1865; LOC: LC-DIG-cwpb-04092)

inside Fort Sedgwick (1865)

FRIEND FULLER: – Thinking that perhaps you would be glad to hear from a soldier, one who lived in Seneca County when this cruel war first broke out, and intends to live there again if his life is spared that long, I thought I would give you a description of how things look in this part of the country. Our Corps (the 2d,) is guarding the front line of works in front of Petersburgh, and I can assure you that it is not very agreeable work. My regiment, the 124th, lies in the rear of Fort Sedgwick, and we do picket duty in front of the fort. The picket pits are about three hundred yards in front of the fort, and about two hundred and fifty yards from the Rebel picket line, but a little further to the right. Our picket line and theirs are not over twenty five yards apart. Where the 40th and 8th N.Y. are doing picket duty, our men talk to the Rebs, and sometimes they exchange papers with them, at the same time keeping their heads below the bank of dirt. The way they do it is by tying a piece of dirt up in the paper and then throwing it over, and they are generally honest enough to do the same. I have been told that before I came here and before we advanced our picket line, that the pickets were on very good terms. Our men would go half way to meet the Rebs, and trade coffee for tobacco, and one thing for another, and talk for an hour or two at a time; but since we advanced our picket line and captured about two hundred and fifty of them, there has been a constant firing on both sides, so much so that it is not safe for a man to show any part of his body above the works. Our pits are in an awful condition, now we are having so much rain, that it makes the mud about a foot deep in them. When a man goes on picket here, he does not expect much sleep. If he does sleep, he will have to do it standing up. It is not very agreeable standing there in the mud for twenty-four hours, I can assure you, for I tried it yesterday and night before last, and it must have been a great deal worse last night, for it has been raining for the past three days. I have been lucky so far in dodging the balls, but a young man by the name of John Anderson, from Seneca Falls, got wounded in his right hand. He was in the same pit with me. It was a very lucky shot, for his hand was not over three inches from his head when he got hit. He will probably lose his two fore fingers on his right hand.

124thInfPersonFlag (http://dmna.ny.gov/historic/reghist/civil/infantry/124thInf/124thInfPersonFlag.htm)

battle-worn flag

There are only four in this Regiment that come from old Seneca, that I know of: C.B. Brusie, E. Bateman, Mr. Trent, and myself. None of us enlisted for this regiment, but for some unknown reason we were sent here. We are all suited, though, as well as if we had went to the regiments that we enlisted for. We have a very good lot of officers. Our Col. Wygant [Weygant] has just returned to his regiment. He got wounded the 27th of last month, in the battle that we had up on the left. Our Major was also wounded and taken prisoner at the same time. Our loss was very heavy in officers. Besides Col. Wygant and Major Murry [Murray], we had one Captain killed and two Lieutenants wounded. I believe that the regiment numbers now about three hundred and fifty men, all told. It was raised in Orange County. It has been through all the battles that the army of the Potomac has since the battle of Antietam, and in all probability would have participated in another, had it not been for this rain, for we received marching orders the day it commenced to rain, and we would have moved that night, but the least bit of rain in this State makes it very mean traveling on foot, and Gen. Grant is not going to make a move unless he can carry it through. He does not want to get stuck in the mud. The report around camp is that we were going to Weldon, North Carolina, but the army don’t know now-a-days where they are going until they get there.

I am very respectfully, your obedient servant, CHARLES O. GOODYEAR

Charles O Goodyear

Charles O Goodyear


Speaking of “if his life is spared that long”, 150 years ago today President Lincoln wrote a woman in Boston who lost five sons who were killed while fighting for the Union. From The Papers And Writings Of Abraham Lincoln, Volume Seven:



MRS. BIXBY, Boston, Massachusetts.

DEAR MADAM:—I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant-General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours very sincerely and respectfully,


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between God and the people

NY Times 11-20-1864

NY Times 11-20-1864

150 years ago today The New-York Times wasn’t sure where Sherman’s army was headed, but it knew he was sweeping and destroying. It published a table of distances for possible destinations and reprinted an article from the November 18th Cincinnati Gazette that hoped Sherman could eventually drive through North Carolina “thus making Eastern Virginia a prison and a grave for Lee’s army and the rebel Government.”

That same front page included news from the South, including an impassioned Richmond editorial that pleaded with the rebel Government not to detail newspapers editors for military service. The editorial claimed it would be better to draft editors for the trenches than to have them at the whim of the government detailing them for temporary service.

From The New-York Times November 20, 1864:

FROM THE SOUTH.; The Southern “Peace Party” Conscription of Editors The War in Georgia Richmond Gossip Enlistment Negroes.

Our files of Southern papers furnish us the following additional extracts: …

From the Richmond Enquirer, Nov. 9.

The Constitution of the Confederate States extends to the Press the ???gi of ils??? protection, and, selecting it out from all other professions, gives it an honorable security against even the Congress of the Confederacy. Coupling it with the free worship of Almighty God the Constitution connects it also with the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Its place in the Constitution is between the Vox Del and the Vox Populi, subordinate to the one, superior to the other. This could not have been mere accident; there must have existed some reason for this protection and for the immediate conjunction with religion and popular petition.

We find this same importance given to the press in the 16th section of the Bill of Rights, reported by Mr. WYTHE. of the Virginta Convention, to the Federal Constitution, as follows: “That the freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty, and ought not to be violated.” What sort of a bulwark of liberty would the press be with detailed editors — the underlings of an underling? It is to this degraded position that the President has deliberately recommended the Congress to reduce the press. He does not say that the army needs their services, but that the exemption by law should be repeated, and that “a discretion be vested in the military authorities” to detail the editors, whensoever and wheresoever those authorities may regard them as “essential to the public service.”

Editors, as individuals, deserve no more consideration from the Congress than “shoemakers, tanners, blacksmiths, printers, millers, miners, physicians and telegraph operators,” but as the Press, without editors, would be playing Hamlet with the part of Hamlet omitted, there is something due to the intelligence of the people, which demands at the hands of Congress that the Press of the country be not wholly prostrated at the foot of the Executive power, and forced to petition for existence, and to receive it upon such conditions as the Executive, or his detailing subordinates, may choose to impose.

Exemption by law gave an honorable position to the Press, secured its independence, and left no red suspended over its head, but such as the people raised by their support or rejection. But an editor emerging from that cesspool of corruption, the detail system, would be an object of offence to the virtuous people of these States, and the paper he conducted cease to be an organ of public opinion, and become the miserable conduit of those to whose favor be owed his exemption from the ranks.

No! for God’s sake put us in the army, the trenches, anywhere; but save us from the degraded position of a detailed editor. …

For sixty years the Richmond Enquirer has existed a newspaper, free, unbought, unpurchaseable, and never shall it exist other wise with our consent. The support we have heretofore given the President and the cause, has been conscientious and free; no other support can we ever give it. If the Congress considers that the bone and muscle of the press are worth more than its brains to the cause, send us all to the ranks, there we may do some service to the country, but as detailed editors, we may become the tools, the minions of power, but we should cease to be the agencies of expression for a free people. …

The first step toward despotism will have been taken when the press of the country is put under the control of the Executive details. The army will not receive one hundred retruits from this recommendation to subititute detail for exemption of the press, but the world will soon learn what value to set upon the voice of a press whose conductors owe their exemption from service to the favor of a detail. …

Under the Virginia Bill of Rights, the freedom of the press is guaranteed. We do not believe that the State of Virginia will quietly permit her press to be wholly destroyed. The only pleasure yet left to conductors of the press is the kind and cheerful support given them by the people. They have uncomplainingly borne with all the embarras???ments that have beset the press, and aided and sustained us in all our difficulties. We do not believe they will permit this last disgrace to be visited upon the press.

Once again the theme is the squeeze on the South’s resources.

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blockade: tweaking and evading

approaches to Wilmington NC 1864 ( Map of the coast of North Carolina from Cape Lookout to Cape Fear. ; LOC: http://www.loc.gov/item/99447484/)

last (CSA) port standing?

150 years ago today President Lincoln lifted the blockade of Norfolk, Fernandina and Pensacola because those ports had “for some time past been in the military possession of the United States, [and] it is deeemd advisable that they should be opened to domestic and foreign commerce”.

On that same day, “The Confederate raider CSS Chickamauga under Lieutenant John Wilkinson runs the Union blockade off Wilmington, North Carolina, covered by a fog, and anchors under the guns of Fort Fisher.” High tide lifted the ship over a bar and the Chickamauga escaped from the fire of Union ships up the Cape Fear River.[1]

CSS Chickamauga (1864-65)  Wash drawing by Clary Ray, 25 June 1897. This ship was originally the blockade running steamer Edith.  Courtesy of the Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C.  U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

evaded blockade off Wilmington

  1. [1] Fredriksen, John C. Civil War Almanac. New York: Checkmark Books, 2008. Print. page 521-522.
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flag presented

A widow gave a regiment’s flag to a local Masonic Lodge.

From a Seneca County, New York newspaper in November 1864:

FLAG PRESENTATION. – The Observer says the beautiful Silk Flag, made and presented, fresh and new, by the ladies of Waterloo, to Co. C., of the old 33d. Regiment, and carried by them through their eventful and glorious two years’ campaign by Capt. Brett, has been presented to Seneca Lodge F.&A.M., by Mrs. Brett.

33d New York Infantry (photographed between 1861 and 1863, printed between 1880 and 1889; LOC: LC-DIG-ppmsca-34386)

some members of old the 33d New York Infantry

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Uncle, can you spare a few dollars?

“I have a little favor to ask of you today.”

At American Memory you can read a letter written 150 years ago yesterday to President Lincoln. I can’t make out all the words, but it seems that in a celebratory meeting in Cincinnati, John Wilkes, the writer of the letter, applauded so hard at a speaker’s praise for Mr. Lincoln that he “ran a large hole through” his hat (or umbrella?). He requested that the President send him a few dollars to buy a replacement because he couldn’t afford one. He was a hard-working man who voted twice for Mr. Lincoln and would even vote for him a third time.


a fortunate few (1782)

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Andersonvile North

“in a land of plenty; to die of lingering torture.”

From the Richmond Daily Dispatch November 16, 1864:

The Treatment of Southern prisoners at the North.

We find in the Washington National Intelligencer a private letter relative to the condition of our prisoners at Elmira, New York. The editors of that paper give as a reason for its publication that “it describes so feelingly the wretched condition of the miserable beings confined in one of the largest of our military prisons and appeals so fervently and eloquently to our common humanity for sympathy and succor to the sufferers”:

Baltimore, October 14, 1864.

My Dear Sir

Home views. No. 15, Rebel prison - 1865 (Elmira, N.Y. : Published by J.E. Larkin, 118 Water Street, [between 1865 and 1880]; LOC: LC-DIG-stereo-1s02989)

Library of Congress: “elevated view of Elmira prison camp in New York, with a long line of prisoners standing along the fence”

My short acquaintance with you would hardly, under ordinary circumstances, warrant my thus addressing you; but I know you to be a christian gentleman, and as such I appeal to you in an emergency of appalling magnitude.

I have just returned from Elmira. Though not permitted to go inside the prison enclosure, I saw the condition of the fifteen hundred who were taken away for exchange, many of them in a dying condition. There are ten thousand prisoners at Elmira. A great number have been in confinement since the battle of Gettysburg. They have been kept at Point Lookout; have contracted disease from the unwholesome water there; were transferred to Elmira scantily clothed to face the cold Northern climate; no tea or coffee is allowed them; no variation of their scanty prison fare. No wonder that the mortality has been, and is, frightful; that the sick number fifteen hundred. Sleeping on the ground, under tents, four blankets for five men, many without socks or shoes; when, at last, taken to the hospital they are too far gone to be restored to life. Several of those taken away for exchange died on the cars. Happy they to be at rest! No more cold or hunger pangs to suffer! Only think of it! Never to be warm, never to have a full meal, a cup of coffee, in a land of plenty; to die of lingering torture.

It is useless to appeal to the Secretary of War. It rests with the men of the North to remove this foul stain from our country. The officers in charge of the prison at Elmira are kind and humane, but the condition of things is beyond their power to remedy. A quantity of coarse, warm clothing is immediately required. Socks, under-clothing, blankets and thick knit jackets are wanted for hospital use; and an effort ought at once to be made, such as Mr. Stanton cannot withstand, to have them allowed coffee, tea and sugar. I cannot, will not, believe that my countrymen of the North will permit this state of things to continue.

I know, sir, how nobly you have responded to the calls made upon you in the past, and I implore you to help me now. My voice is too feeble to reach the ears of the thousands who ought to be willing as they are able to give to this holy charity. From every prison in the North, East and West, from Rhode Island to Fort Warren, goes out this wail of suffering humanity — clothing and blankets to keep us warm, food and coffee to save us from perishing! Woe to the people, dwellers in a land of plenty, to whom these calls are made in vain! These men are our brothers. There is not a hamlet in the far West, a village in my own native New England, not a mining town in California, but shelters some gray head, some bleeding, anguished heart, whose hearts go right up to heaven for pity on these prisoners — their own kindred, blood of blood.

Mr.–, I cannot write of these things. Those fifteen hundred pale faces are before me as I saw them pass me at the depot. Those ghastly, pleading faces! I saw them here again — saw the pile of dead — dead from want of nourishing food — a cup of coffee. I saw in a city whose church s[t]eeples tower toward Heaven gentle women, who would have given this nourishment, driven by brutal police and detectives from the mission bequeathed to them by the pitying Son of Mary. Hot tears of shame for my countrymen who permit these outrages upon Humanity and Christianity — tears of pity for these poor sufferers blind my eyes. I cannot write.

Help me, Mr.–, and plead with others also to give of their abundance, as they hope for mercy in that awful hour when we must all give an account of our stewardship. I would plead for all the prisons, though I have only seen the horrors of Elmira.

With great respect, yours,

Mary W. Reonee.

One of the Elmira Star-Gazette’s 20 facts about Elmira’s Civil War prison camp seems especially pertinent to this letter:

6 An observation platform with chairs and binoculars was built outside the prison camp across Water Street west of Hoffman Street. Visitors were charged 10 cents apiece to look at the prisoners. Refreshments were sold to spectators while the Confederate soldiers starved.

At American Memory you can see and read a letter from New York City Mayor C. Godfrey Gunther to Abraham Lincoln in November 1864 about a scheme to relieve some of the suffering at Elmira – the South was to sell 1,000 bales of cotton in New York City; the proceeds were to be used to buy supplies for rebel prisoners of war. Apparently the negotiations had stalled and some of the mayor’s constituents were very concerned as winter approached.

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Mac’s resignation

Abraham Lincoln on battlefield at Antietam, Maryland, cropped version that highlights McLellan and Lincoln (by Alexander Gardner, 1862 October 3, printed later; LOC:  LC-USZ62-2276 )

resigned (Antietam, 1862)

150 years ago today President Lincoln accepted General McClellan’s Election Day resignation from the army. The Atlas & Argus of Albany New York was a Democratic party newspaper (according to the November 11, 1864 issue of The New-York Times the Argus was still claiming General McClellan won New York State as late as November 10th) that saw the resignation as an example of the General’s honorable character – unlike the President’s.

From a Seneca County, New York newspaper in November 1864:

Gen. McClellan’s Resignation.

The resignation of General McClellan, which was made on the 8th inst., has been accepted. It is said in addition, in quarters accustomed to speak for the President, that Mr. Lincoln intended to remove him, and would have done so, if he had not been thus anticipated by the voluntary act of the General.

If so, Gen. MCCLELLAN, who has before shielded the Administration from disaster, now saves it from dishonor. It may be said that President LINCOLN might have been left to crown his conduct towards the General, and his action during the campaign by this last act of indignity. But though this would have revealed the full malignity of a base nature in its hour of triumph, yet the spectacle would have still further dishonored his country, and we are glad that we are spared it. – Atlas and Argus.

ThadStevensto AL 11-8-1864 (LOC: http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=mal&fileName=mal1/380/3804600/malpage.db&recNum=0)

Thaddeus Stevens calls PA for the Pres (Library of Congress, American Memory)

John Hay’s diary entry [1] for Election Day, November 8, 1864 provides a different view of President Lincoln’s character. Early in the rainy day Mr. Lincoln reflected:

“It is a little singular that I, who am not a vindicthe [vindictive?] man, should have always been before the people for election in canvasses marked for their bitterness; always but once; when I came to Congress it was a quiet time. But always besides that the contests ill [in?] which I have been prominent have been marked with great rancor.”

About 7 PM Mr. Lincoln and aides splashed through the rainy night over to the War Department to receive the telegraphed election returns. Secretary of the Navy Welles and and Assistant Secretary Fox were vengefully happy over some of the results. The President remarked:

“You have more of that feeling of personal resentment than I,” said Lincoln. “Perhaps I may have too little of it, but I never thought it paid. A man has not time to spend half his life in quarrels. If any man ceases to attack me, I never remember the past against him. …”

The group had a late meal:

Towards midnight we had supper, provided by Eckert. The President went awkwardly and hospitably to work shoveling out the fried oysters. He was most agreeable and genial all evening in fact.

The Presidential combat  (LOC: http://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200001522/)

combat concluded (Library of Congress, Music Division)

  1. [1] Commager, Henry Steele and Erik Bruun, eds. The Civil War Archive. New York: Black Dog and Levanthal Publishers, 2000. Print. pages 749-751.
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Georgia quiet

There hadn’t been much news from Georgia in recent days. A Richmond paper tried to guess what that meant.

Majr. Genl. William T. Sherman: U.S. Army (New York : Published by Currier & Ives, [between 1856 and 1907]; LOC:  LC-USZ62-7828)

“troubled state”

From the Richmond Daily Dispatch November 12, 1864:

Saturday Morning…november 12, 1864.
The War News.


There has been no news received from Georgia for several days. Sherman is in a troubled state, judging from his erratic movements, and does not know whether to go backward towards Atlanta, push forward towards Tennessee, or He [be?] still and await Hood’s action, Something will shortly be done, or both armies will be compelled to go into winter quarters.

Atlanta, Ga. Trout House, Masonic Hall, and Federal encampment on Decatur Street (by george N. Barnard, 1864; LOC: LC-DIG-cwpb-03304)

quiet “Atlanta, Ga. Trout House, Masonic Hall, and Federal encampment on Decatur Street” (1864)

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