To understand how the 1864 battles around Atlanta changed history, it helps to know about the city on the eve of war.
Founded just 23 years earlier and located in the backcountry environs of North Georgia, Atlanta was closer to a frontier town than a bustling city. Its growth was fueled primarily by the junction of four railroad lines -- the Western & Atlantic, the Georgia Railroad, the Atlanta & West Point, and the Macon & Western -- that connected Georgia’s products and merchants to markets westward.
Yet three things were about to propel the town of less than 10,000 into history's path: the confluence of those railroads, a unique entrepreneurial spirit among its inhabitants, and the American Civil War.
Total population: 9554
Free population: 7640
Slave population: 1914
White population: 7615
Free black population: 25
The 1860 federal census showed a population approaching 10,000 -- a remarkable number for a crossroads that didn't even take its present name until 1847. Such growth spurred Atlanta into the 100 most populous U.S. cities, but barely. Even in the less-populated South, Atlanta was behind places such as Wheeling, Va. (now W. Va.), and Wilmington, N.C.
Use the tabs to view by region. Use the small scroll-down bar at right to see the entire U.S. list. You can click on a city name to see where it is on the map. You also can hover over the red circles to see each city's population.
Booming job markets included railroads, construction and prostitution. The 1860 Census reveals a strange mix in the 2,484 job descriptions given by Atlantans, exclusive of the work done by the city's 1,900 enslaved residents.
10 most common jobs
1. Laborer: 284
2. Carpenter: 235
3. Clerk: 177
4. Widow: 136
5. Merchant: 90
6. Machinist: 79
7. Locomotive fireman: 66
8. Painter: 61
9. Locomotive engineer: 59
10. Prostitute: 49
Look up jobs by type:
Five houses still stand inside I-285 from antebellum Atlanta: the Goodwin House (left) at 3931 Peachtree Road; the Peachtree Golf clubhouse at 4600 Peachtree Blvd; the Judge William Wilson home at 501 Fairburn Road SW; Meadow Nook at 2420 Alston Drive SE; and the Tullie Smith House, which has been relocated to the Atlanta History Center grounds.
As North and South split apart over slavery, Atlantans approached the 1860 presidential election with apprehension. In the minds of most white Southerners, the election was a national referendum on the future of slavery, an institution that was the foundation of the region's economy. If Republican Abraham Lincoln won, their belief went, the only way Southern states could preserve slavery would be by exiting the Union and forming a new government that guaranteed the right to own African-Americans.
Yet many Atlantans wanted no part of a new nation. On Election Day, Atlanta voters went for a pro-Union candidate, John Bell. But when Lincoln won anyway, and Georgians voted for secession two months later, the city's white population overwhelmingly threw its support behind the creation of the Confederacy.
War broke out in April 1861, and a few diehard Unionists -- mostly Northern transplants who had moved here for business reasons -- found themselves disconnected from their nation. Most of the city, however, was caught up in Confederate patriotism and the fervor of war.
Slavery was an integral part of the overall economy -- 1 out of every 5 Atlanta residents was a slave. Like other urban areas, Atlanta had a lower slave population than the rest of the antebellum South due to the absence of plantations.
Unlike rural areas, many slaves in Atlanta had valuable job skills, such as carpentry or tailoring, which helped fuel a modernizing economy.
Hover over (or touch on tablet) the pie charts for percentages
Milton Co. (north Fulton today)
The idea of a Republican president was so abhorrent to most white Southerners that Abraham Lincoln didn't even appear on the ballot in Georgia and 10 other Southern states.
Atlanta's torn loyalties are reflected in results of the Nov. 6 election, when the moderate John Bell outpolled John C. Breckenridge, who was the choice of most hard-line white Southerners. And even when a special election on secession followed on Jan. 2, 1860, the statewide result was not completely one-sided either.