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

The Books I Picked & Why

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

By James Michael Russell

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

Why 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.


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Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864

By Albert Castel

Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864

Why 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.


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Secret Yankees: The Union Circle in Confederate Atlanta

By Thomas G. Dyer

Secret Yankees: The Union Circle in Confederate Atlanta

Why 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.


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

By William A. Link

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

Why 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.


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Race and the Atlanta Cotton States Exposition of 1895

By Theda Perdue

Race and the Atlanta Cotton States Exposition of 1895

Why 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.


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