Mar 21, 2022 - Things to Do

Downtown Atlanta’s rich Civil War history

A hand holds a print out of photos from 1864 depicting a street scape in Atlanta with a store front offering to sell enslaved people
The area near present-day Peachtree Street around Five Points was lined with businesses, including one that sold enslaved people. Photo: Thomas Wheatley/Axios. Source: Georgia Battlefields Association

Too often, the story of Downtown Atlanta during the Civil War begins and ends with General Sherman torching the city and heading to Savannah.

  • But there's so much more to know about the role the logistics, manufacturing and medical hub of the city — which before the occupation had a population of roughly 22,000 people, according to some estimates — played during the Civil War.

Last weekend, I took a guided tour of historic Civil War spots in Downtown. Led by the Georgia Battlefields Association, the walk was part of the Atlanta Preservation Center's Phoenix Flies.

Here are some of the facts I learned from our tour guide Charlie Crawford:

  • The first shell fired by the Union army to hit Downtown landed at what today is the intersection of Ellis Street and Peachtree Center Avenue.
  • City Hall was located where the Georgia Capitol now stands, and the Union Army built its first camp on what today is the closed segment of Mitchell Street between the Gold Dome and legislative office buildings.
  • Don't fall for the myth that the Freight Depot was built before the Civil War, Crawford says; the popular events space was built in 1867.

Learn more: I tweeted some tidbits while taking the tour Saturday. The Georgia Battlefields Association is leading tours in Macon at the end of the month.

  • The Phoenix Flies series has additional tours and events around the city — if they're booked, join the waiting list and cross your fingers — scheduled for the rest of March.
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