what was the political effect of sherman's capture of atlanta? Why did this matter for the outcome of the civil war?

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Sherman's capture of Atlanta was politically important as it convinced many people in the North that the war would soon end, and in fact aided in the re-election of Abraham Lincoln. Up to that point, Lincoln's re-election had been questionable. He was only re-nominated on the ninth ballot and was opposed on the Democratic ticket by George B. McClellan, the former commander of the Union Army whom Lincoln had fired. McClellan was supported by northern Copperheads, that is Democrats who wanted an immediate end to the war.

Atlanta was one of the major industrial cities in the South, and its loss was a devastating blow to the Southern cause. Sherman turned it into a fortress and forced its residents to leave. He ordered his troops to destroy major factories and railroad lines by setting them on fire; but the fire burned out of control and destroyed over one third of the city.

Sherman used his victory at Atlanta to convince Lincoln and U.S. Grant, now commander in chief of Union forces, that he should wage "total war," in order to break the spirit of the Southern people. On the strength of this, he began his famous "March to the Sea" in which he destroyed immense amounts of Confederate property and crops. His efforts led the South to believe the war was no longer worth fighting.

mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

General Sherman’s capture of Atlanta was very important for many reasons. One reason was that Abraham Lincoln believed he might not win reelection in 1864. The Civil War had lasted longer than most northerners thought it would last. The Copperheads, or Peace Democrats, wanted President Lincoln to negotiate an end to the war with the Confederacy. The victory in Atlanta helped convince many northerners that the Union was doing well and would eventually win the war. After General Sherman reached Atlanta, the path to the rest of the South was wide open. Northerners could see that President Lincoln’s war plan was working. President Lincoln was reelected in 1864.

Once General Sherman got to Atlanta, he began to plan for the complete destruction of the rest of the South. General Sherman ordered the burning of all of Atlanta’s military resources. The fire eventually spread throughout Atlanta, leaving the city in ruins. Eventually, General Sherman began his famous March to the Sea. He waged total war on the South, bringing complete devastation to the South. The massive destruction broke the South’s spirit, and it made it clear to most northerners that the South was nearing defeat.

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