George N. Barnard’s Civil War photos over scenes from modern-day Atlanta


Jan 6, 2013
Buford, Georgia

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The Ponder House is in ruins following Sherman’s bombardment of Atlanta throughout August 1864. Built by planter and slave trader Ephraim G. Ponder, the house stood along the Marietta Road (on the edge of present-day Georgia Tech) on a prominent hillside offering a perfect target for Federal artillery.
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Thomas Frazer and Company Slave Auction House, Atlanta, 1864

One of the most famous photographs of the Civil War is George N. Barnard’s scene of the Thomas Frazer and Company slave auction house at 8 Whitehall Street, current site of the Five Points MARTA Station. It is a stark reminder of the practice of buying and selling humans. It may also be a political statement on the part of the photographer.

A high-resolution digital scan of this image reveals that the guard sitting in front of the building is no ordinary soldier. He is African American. Though Union Armies in occupied Atlanta employed hundreds of African Americans as cooks, teamsters, and servants, General Sherman refused to allow armed regiments of the newly-formed United States Colored Troops into his command, believing they were not fit to serve as soldiers.

Barnard’s inclusion of an African American at the entrance to the slave market seems intended to emphasize the great changes the war had brought to the South. Perhaps the soldier is from one of the black regiments that served as garrison troops around Chattanooga and Rome. Perhaps he is a civilian dressed in a Union uniform. The depiction of the soldier reading a book, when literacy was denied to most enslaved people, adds significance to the irony of the staged scene.

Union troops burned this section of Whitehall Street on the night of November 15, 1864. After the war, a Massachusetts colonel recalled the destruction of the “negro markets … never to be set up again.”

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In 1864, photographer George N. Barnard documented Alabama Street looking east from Whitehall Street (now Peachtree). The white building at right is the Atlanta National Bank and next to it is the Franklin House & Bookbindery. During the early 1900s the original level of Alabama Street was covered by a viaduct system bridging the train gulch nearby. Now known as Lower Alabama, the street is in the heart of Underground Atlanta.


Peachtree Street, Atlanta, 1864

In 1864, photographer George N. Barnard documented the streets crossing the downtown railroad tracks in Atlanta. Peachtree Street at this location is currently around fifteen feet above the original ground level. The street was raised in 1901 by the construction of a bridge, or viaduct, to carry street and pedestrian traffic above the railroad lines located on ground level. By the late 1920s, the viaduct system in downtown Atlanta created a network of streets and bridges one story above the ground-level streets, creating Underground Atlanta.


First Sergeant
Silver Patron
Feb 21, 2014
Atlanta has a lot of Civil War history. You just have to know where to look because most everything else has changed. Great photos.