After a long hot summer of fighting, the Army of Tennessee, first under Joseph E. Johnston, then under John B. Hood, was forced to abandon the city of Atlanta on September 1, 1864. As Hood's Confederate army left, William T. Sherman's Union army moved into the city. One of the first things Sherman wanted to do when he took over the city was to evacuate the civilians. To this end, there was a series of not so cordial correspondence between Sherman and Hood, and one between Sherman and the mayor of Atlanta. The following is the letter sent to Halleck from Sherman explaining his actions. The links provide the correspondence that is referenced in the letter to Halleck. These are as documented in the official records.
HDQRS. MILITARY DIVISION OF THE MISSISSIPPI,
Atlanta, Ga., September 20, 1864.
Maj. Gen. H. W. HALLECK, Chief of Staff, Washington, D.C.:
GENERAL: I have the honor herewith to submit copies of a correspondence between General Hood, of the Confederate army, the mayor of Atlanta, and myself touching the removal of the inhabitants of Atlanta. In explanation of the tone which marks some of these letters I will only call your attention to the fact that after I had announced my determination General Hood took upon himself to question my motive. I could not tamely submit to such impertinence, and I have seen that in violation of all official usage he has published in the Macon newspapers such parts of the correspondence as suited his purpose. This could have had no other object than to create a feeling on the part of the people, but if he expects to resort to such artifices I think I can meet him there too. It is sufficient for my Government to know that the removal of the inhabitants has been made with liberality and fairness; that it has been attended by no force, and that no women or children have suffered, unless for want of provisions by their natural protectors and friends. My real reasons for this step were, we want all the houses of Atlanta for military storage and occupation. We want to contract the lines of defenses so as to diminish the garrison to the limit necessary to defend its narrow and vital parts instead of embracing, as the lines now do, the vast suburbs. This contraction of the lines, with the necessary citadels and redoubts, will make it necessary to destroy the very houses used by families as residences. Atlanta is a fortified town, was stubbornly defended and fairly captured. As captors we have a right to it. The residence here of a poor population would compel us sooner or later to feed them or see them starve under our eyes. The residence here of the families of our enemies would be a temptation and a means to keep up a correspondence dangerous and hurtful to our cause, and a civil population calls for provost guards, and absorbs the attention of officers in listening to everlasting complaints and special grievances that are not military. These are my reasons, and if satisfactory to the Government of the United States it makes no difference whether it pleases General Hood and his people or not.
I am, with respect, your obedient servant,
W. T. SHERMAN,
Click on the link to read the letters refered to.