By Jonathan Scott, curator of the Southern Museum
This summer marks the sesquicentennials of General William T. Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign and March to the Sea, two military episodes that forever changed the Georgia landscape.
While it’s been 150 years since Sherman and his troops wreaked havoc on our state, the stories of those who witnessed and survived this devastation are as vivid and as relevant today as they were in 1864. It is important that we remember and study the events of that year to better understand its historical significance as well as how it helped to shape the future of Georgia.
Starting this May, the Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History will host a special exhibit titled “1864.” To tell the story, we are relying on rare artifacts, photographs, and letters which will allow our visitors to get a sense of the situation experienced by soldiers and citizens alike as that dreadful year got underway.
Until 1864, Georgia escaped much of the devastation and hardships other Southern states – mainly Virginia and Tennessee – had endured during the first three years of fighting. The Great Locomotive Chase of 1862 and the 1863 Battle of Chickamauga are two exceptions; neither, however, resulted in widespread destruction. The southward march of Sherman and his troops from Chattanooga to Atlanta and beyond thus signaled a dramatic change for Georgians.
By early 1864, the ways in which the Civil War was fought were rapidly changing as technology improved, tactics shifted, and hearts hardened. Sherman’s March devastated parts of Georgia’s landscape and left some citizens barely able to survive. We hope to tell the stories of not just the soldiers and military strategists, but some of these everyday citizens who endured hardships at the hands of warring armies.
One of those who participated in the fighting was Capt. George Hudson, a captain in the 36th Georgia. Publically available for the first time will be scans and transcriptions of letters that Hudson wrote to and received from his wife, Sarah, as well as other family members.
"I want to live through this war for your sakes. I will try to be a better Husband and Father Than what I have been,” Hudson wrote in one heartbreaking letter which was donated to the Museum in 2006.
Even though it’s been 15 decades since the Civil War was fought, the stories of Hudson and others who lived during this transformative time in our nation’s history remain as relevant as ever. The sesquicentennial gives us an opportunity to reflect on their lives, as well as the broader impact of the war in the century-and-a-half since.
The events of 1864 are perhaps the most pivotal in our nation’s history, and laid the groundwork for the end of the war the following year. The return of peace opened new doors of opportunity, and the former Confederate states began to industrialize. Companies such as Marietta’s Glover Machine Works, a locomotive builder the Southern Museum highlights in one of its permanent exhibits, brought new opportunities to the region.
The thousands of soldiers and citizens who gave their lives in the Kennesaw area, North Georgia, and across the nation during the Civil War should be remembered. We hope you will take a moment this summer to reflect and pay tribute.