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Atlanta as seen from the cupola of the Female Seminary in October 1864, before being burned... click to see Atlanta photos at the Library of Congress
Atlanta from the cupola of the Female Seminary in October 1864, before being burned... click for Library of Congress Atlanta pics

The New York Times, June 22, 1864, p. 2:


Description of the City and its Surroundings—The Defences—The Markets—Crops—Social Life—Condition of the People.

From the Chicago Tribune.
    [We have received the following facts relative to Atlanta and the surrounding country, from a very intelligent Northern gentleman, who has lately made his escape from that place. How he succeeded in getting through rebel lines it would be manifestly impolitic to state, and the same reasons apply to the supression of his name. His statements may be implicitly relied upon, and we give them as he has furnished them to us.—Eds.]


    As seen from Stone Mountain, a vast elevation of granite sixteen miles northeast, Atlanta appears situated upon a large plain, but as the observer descends from this giddy height and travels in the direction of either point of the compass, his progress is obstructed by sharp "pitches" and narrow "ravines," through many of which flow small rivulets. To such an extent is this the character of the surface that scarcely an acre of level ground can be found in the limits of the city.

    The soil, where there is any, is light and sandy, with a substratum of red clay. Other portions are gravelly and sterile. The most of the country is still covered with a heavy growth of timber. This description holds good until you pass a few miles north of Marietta, twenty-one miles north of Atlanta, including Dallas, lying a little northwest of the Alatoona Mountains. North and parallel runs the Ettawa River. From there to Dalton the surface is less broken, and constitutes the best grain and grazing part of Georgia. Cass County is said to be the wealthiest in the State.

    When the writer passed through this country no army had invaded it, yet it looked desolate and forsaken. Not half the land is under cultivation. Fences and buildings are going to decay. In all the little towns the stores and hotels are closed. Travel from morning until night and you will not see a man, save some greyheaded grandfather. Husbands and sons have all gone to war. Nothing remains to be seen but old women and children, many of them plowing in the field, and all fearful that they shall not be able to harvest the wheat they have planted. Most of their servants had been run off since planting time to Southwestern Georgia for fear they might, of their own accord, run the other way. I presume their crops ere this have all been harvested; doubtless what Johnston left Sherman has taken.


    The city is laid out in a circle, two miles in diameter, in the centre of which is the passenger depot, from which radiate railroads to every quarter of the Confederacy. On the north side of the depot is a park, inclosed and ornamented with trees and flowering shrubs. Opposite the three vacant sides situated the three principal hotels. In the business portion of the city are many fine blocks of buildings. Before the war these were mostly filled with consignments of goods from the large cities of the North and Northwest for the supply of the cotton regions. Now the city is one vast Government storehouse. Here are located the machine shops of the principal railroads; the most extensive rolling mill in the South foundries, pistol and tent factories, &c., &c. In addition, the Government have works for casting shot and shell, making gun carriages, cartridges, caps, shoes, clothing, &c., &c.


    Encircling the city is a line of rifle-pits nine miles in length and about thirty inches high, upon slight eminences. At nearly regular intervals there are planted twelve or fourteen batteries, said to be mounted with condemned guns! The fortifications were constructed as a defence from raids, and for the year past have been manned with a small force. It is not generally supposed that Johnston will attempt to make a stand in the city.


    In 1860 Atlanta contained 15,000 inhabitants, increased since by refugees and Government officials to at least 20,000. As the route from any one point of the Confederacy to any other naturally leads through Atlanta, its streets are literally crammed with soldiers and drays, Sundays not excepted. The only exception was a few weeks since, when Gen. Johnston sent Gen. Wright, with two regiments, down to "clean them out." Those Wright didn't get, the conscript officer did, including all males, without distinction, from 17 to 50 years of age. He detailed some farmers, cripples and invalids to work their own farms, provided they gave bonds and security to give to the Government a certain quantity of bacon to the hand, and to sell all their surplus produce to the Government at a stipulated price; mechanics were to work on the Government contracts, or for parties having contracts; cripples and invalids for Quartermaster's clerks and guard duty.


    The planting of cotton is prohibited by law, and on this cotton land they have raised, for the two years past, unusually heavy crops of corn. The slaves from all the adjoining states have been run into Southwestern Georgia and new land opened, of which there is an endless tract, and the quantity of corn raised has seemed to be endless. Notwithstanding the supply was abundant, there has been much suffering in districts where crops were short for want of transportation, and many from the northern sections of Georgia have taken their children and traveled south in search of food for fear of starvation ere food could reach them at their homes. There is a State and County Fund for the support of soldier's families, but it is inadequate to their support.

    The laboring classes do not receive wages in proportion to the cost of subsistence, thus causing much suffering.

    The following is a list of prices paid by the writer for articles purchased in April:

    1 barrel flour, $250; 1 bushel potatoes, $24; 8? lbs. beefsteak, $25; 1 chicken, $6.50; 1 dozen eggs, $3; 1 lb. butter, $15; 100 lbs. bacon, $500, 1 bushel meal, $16; 1 muslin dress, $140; 36 yards osnaburgs, $141; 25 yards homespun, $175; 1 bonnet, $300; 1 pair ladies' shoes, $130; 1 pair child's shoes, $75, 1 pair cashmere pants, $350; 1 paper pins, $4; 1 spool of thread, $2.

    This is a fair sample, but many articles are higher and some lower.

    It was thought by many that when the new currency bill came into effect prices would go down, but no one seemed to have any more confidence in the new than the old. Many farmers refused to sell their produce, and some goods were packed up to await events.


    A shade of gloom seemed to pervade the hearts of all at the commencement of the war... Many soldiers' relief societies were formed... While many have thus been laboring, others, in Atlanta in particular, have been riding in their four thousand dollar carriages, dressed in thousand dollar silks and two thousand dollar cloaks, and at night attending the theatre or joining in the dance for the benefit of John Morgan or some other hero. see nothing but war. You eat war; you hear war; you talk nothing but war, and when you retire to your bed you dream of war. You wake tired of war, but the despot has got you by the throat, with a thousand bayonets bristling around you, and you must fight or do worse.


    Two years ago the people expected Richmond to fall, and were disappointed, for the majority had made up their minds to go back contented. I do not think they would do so now. The flower of the South are either dead or maimed for life. Every house is a house of mourning. They feel that they have or will lose all at the close of the war, let it end as it may, and they are determined to die game. While many are sanguine of success, the majority know that if Johnston cannot hold Dalton, that Atlanta is only a question of time.


    I have good reasons for believing that on the first of May, Johnston's army numbered not far from 50,000, including reinforcements and doubtless his losses have been made good by provost guards and other troops, relieved from similar duty by the militia.

    He could not have had over 30,000 veteran troops. The balance were State guards and conscripts. It was thought that most of the Tennessee troops would desert should Johnston retreat, but they have little opportunity, and the risk is great. Those caught in the act have been shot down in squads from ten to thirty, as their comrades did this duty reluctantly. Three volleys have been fired without dispatching all, when the officers would finish them with their pistols.

    Johnston's army has been as well or better fed and clothed for a few months past than ever before. Johnston's motto is the soldiers must be fed if the people starve.


    These hotels were never anything to brag of. Now every guest must furnish his own room, or do without sheets, blankets, towels, or soap. The soldiers appropriate them as often as they are vacated. For breakfast he gets bacon, corn bread and rye coffee or sassafras tea, and no butter. Dinner and supper ditto—for which he is charged five to ten dollars per meal or thirty or forty dollars per day...

The Federal Reserve Bank's estimated consumer price index shows that $1 in 1864 was equivalent to $13.89 in 2007.