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The Torching of Atlanta

August 30, 2009
WSJ Online

By the spring of 1864, when the Union Army’s Atlanta campaign got under way, the Civil War should have been over. After the Confederacy’s twin defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg the previous summer, military victory for the South was all but impossible. Yet, for the die-hard leaders in ­Richmond, there remained the ­prospect of a “political victory,” in which a military reverse, or even a stalemate for Yankee forces, might prompt war-weary Northerners to chuck out the Lincoln administration in the upcoming presidential election.

It was not an idle hope. Americans in the North responded to the Emancipation Proclamation by voting heavily against Lincoln’s party in the midterm elections, and deadly riots had broken out in Northern cities to protest the military draft. If there had been scientific political polls taken in those days, it is estimated that the president’s approval rating would have been only about 25%.

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