On 2 Sept. 1864 — just as my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull returned to active duty — Union forces captured Atlanta after a prolonged siege.
This incredible victory in the fight to abolish slavery and preserve the union gave an electrifying boost to the Union Army — and strengthened popular resolve in the North to press on.
“So Atlanta is ours, and fairly won,” wrote Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman — commander of Union forces in and around Atlanta — in a telegram to Washington on 3 Sept.
Arthur’s 6th NY Heavy Artillery commander, Col. J. Howard Kitching, summed up the euphoric mood in a 5 Sept. letter: “The news from Atlanta is glorious, is it not? O, for a decisive victory in the East!”
When they arrived in Washington from Virginia the month before — marching from the 6th St. pier past the U.S. Capitol, up Pennsylvania Ave. to Georgetown then on to Tenleytown — my great, great grandfather’s unit took up positions in Fort Reno and the other forts protecting the city.
That’s where Arthur was stationed — I was surprised to discover — when news reached him of the fall of Atlanta.
I lived in Washington, D.C. for four years. Yet I was unaware — until researching his wartime movements for this blog — that my ancestor had served during the Civil War right near my home.
In his diary, Sgt. William Thistleton of the 6th NYHA described the Union artillerists’ renewed desire in September 1864 to be battle-ready on the big guns — and the rank-and-file’s dim view of constant inspections.
The men became interested in heavy artillery drills and perfected them-selves so rapidly that in two weeks time they were fully competent to take charge of and handle the guns in any emergency.
The only drawback to our enjoyment being that great bug-bear. to any soldier, ‘Inspection.’ every day a lot of officers would arrive at the fort and the order would be turn out for inspection at one time we thought that we were to be inspected by every officer in the service as no doubt we would if we had remained there six months longer.
Yet remain there they would not. The victory in Atlanta was pivotal, but the Civil War was not over.
On 23 Sept. 1864, wrote Sgt. Thistleton, my ancestor Arthur Bull and his unit received new orders to pack up and be ready to move by 11 p.m. that night. They were headed back to the battle front — this time to the Shenandoah Valley.
© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.