The best books on 19th century Atlanta Georgia

Wendy Hamand Venet Author Of Gone But Not Forgotten: Atlantans Commemorate the Civil War
By Wendy Hamand Venet

Who am I?

Wendy Hamand Venet is an emeritus professor of history at Georgia State University. She is the author or editor of three books about Atlanta, Sam Richards’s Civil War Diary: A Chronicle of the Atlanta Home Front (edited work); A Changing Wind: Commerce and Conflict in Civil War Atlanta; Gone but not Forgotten: Atlantans Commemorate the Civil War.

I wrote...

Gone But Not Forgotten: Atlantans Commemorate the Civil War

By Wendy Hamand Venet,

Book cover of Gone But Not Forgotten: Atlantans Commemorate the Civil War

What is my book about?

This book examines the differing ways that Atlantans have remembered the Civil War since its end in 1865. During the Civil War, Atlanta became the second-most important city in the Confederacy after Richmond, Virginia. Since 1865, Atlanta's civic and business leaders promoted the city's image as a "phoenix city" rising from the ashes of General William T. Sherman's wartime destruction. According to this carefully constructed view, Atlanta honored its Confederate past while moving forward with financial growth and civic progress in the New South. But African Americans challenged this narrative with an alternate one focused on the legacy of slavery, the meaning of freedom, and the pervasive racism of the postwar city. During the civil rights movement in the 1960s, Atlanta's white and black Civil War narratives collided.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Atlanta, 1847-1890: City Building in the Old South and the New

Why did I love this book?

This book provides an excellent overview of Atlanta’s rise from humble beginnings as a rail hub before the Civil War to a thriving commercial center by the end of the century. Russell argues that the war accelerated Atlanta’s commercial and industrial development, but its path was already set before General William T. Sherman’s army arrived during the Civil War. White business elites dominated city politics until the election of Atlanta’s first Black mayor, Maynard Jackson, in 1973.

Book cover of Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864

Why did I love this book?

A lengthy study of the military campaign that led to Atlanta’s downfall, this book includes military strategies of the two armies, details about the many skirmishes and battles, and forceful conclusions about this decisive campaign. Castel posits that the Confederate commander, General Joseph E. Johnston, “had the best, perhaps the sole, chance of saving Atlanta,” while also believing that Johnston’s replacement, General John Bell Hood, “inherited . . . a virtually impossible situation.” Regardless of military leadership, the Federal army’s superior number of soldiers and their greater material assets proved decisive.

By Albert Castel,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Decision in the West as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Following a skirmish on June 28, 1864, a truce is called so the North can remove their dead and wounded. For two hours, Yankees and Rebels mingle, with some of the latter even assisting the former in their grisly work. Newspapers are exchanged. Northern coffee is swapped for Southern tobacco. Yanks crowd around two Rebel generals, soliciting and obtaining autographs.
As they part, a Confederate calls to a Yankee, "I hope to miss you, Yank, if I happen to shoot in your direction." "May I, never hit you Johnny if we fight again," comes the reply.

The reprieve is short.…

Book cover of Secret Yankees: The Union Circle in Confederate Atlanta

Why did I love this book?

Founded as a rail center in the 1830s, Atlanta was dependent on commercial ties with the North which explains the city’s Unionism before the Civil War. In the pivotal election of 1860 where Lincoln carried the northern states and a “southern rights” candidate carried the deep South, Atlantans voted overwhelmingly for Unionist candidates John Bell and Stephen A. Douglas. Although their numbers diminished after secession, a small cadre of Unionists remained in the city during the war, including Cyrena Stone, whose secret (and fascinating) diary is both a major source for and an appendix in this book.

By Thomas G. Dyer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Secret Yankees as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

During the American Civil War, a small group of Unionists found themselves trapped in the largest Southern city between Richmond and New Orleans. Atlanta was a Confederate bastion. The military ruled, and it brooked little dissent. But, as this work demonstrates, the Confederate military hadn't reckoned on Cyrena Stone. A Vermont native, Cyrena moved to Atlanta with her husband, Amherst, in 1854. After war broke out Amherst escaped to the North, but Cyrena remained behind. Hiding her small Union flag in her sugar bowl, suppressing but not moderating her well-known pro-Northern views, she belonged to a secret circle of Unionists…

Book cover of Atlanta, Cradle of the New South: Race and Remembering in the Civil War's Aftermath

Why did I love this book?

This book looks at Atlanta’s role in the emergence of a “New South” and the way that journalist and civic leader Henry Grady used the story of Atlanta’s wartime burning and destruction and its postwar rebuilding to rebrand the city. While supporting segregation in the South, Grady urged northern Whites to invest in the New South economy and denied that the region had a race problem. Black Atlantans presented an alternate narrative, one that emphasized the war as a first step in the fight for freedom and equality. The Atlanta Race Riot of 1906 left Grady’s New South concept “tattered and frayed”; the term was seldom used after that.

By William A. Link,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Atlanta, Cradle of the New South as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After conquering Atlanta in the summer of 1864 and occupying it for two months, Union forces laid waste to the city in November. William T. Sherman's invasion was a pivotal moment in the history of the South and Atlanta's rebuilding over the following fifty years came to represent the contested meaning of the Civil War itself. The war's aftermath brought contentious transition from Old South to New for whites and African Americans alike. Historian William Link argues that this struggle defined the broader meaning of the Civil War in the modern South, with no place embodying the region's past and…

Book cover of Race and the Atlanta Cotton States Exposition of 1895

Why did I love this book?

The 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition, a seminal moment in Atlanta’s history, is best remembered as the setting for Booker T. Washington’s opening day address in which he suggested that the races could be “as separate as the fingers” in “all things social.” Theda Perdue considers the white supremacist attitudes of the fair’s organizers and the ways in which people of color were represented. The designated Negro Building allowed Black educators and artists to showcase their accomplishments in a segregated setting, but exhibits about Native Americans by the Smithsonian and Office of Indian Affairs treated them as ancient cultures of the past and not as vibrant cultures of the present.

By Theda Perdue,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Race and the Atlanta Cotton States Exposition of 1895 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Cotton States Exposition of 1895 was a world's fair in Atlanta held to stimulate foreign and domestic trade for a region in an economic depression. This uses the exposition to examine the competing agendas of white supremacist organizers and the peoples of colour who participated.

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