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Surviving the Siege of Atlanta

The war diary of Carrie Berry offers a ten-year-old’s perspective on the siege and fall of Atlanta.

Carrie Berry’s Diary, 1864-1874

Carrie Berry’s Diary, 1864-1874; 1897. Carrie Berry papers, MSS 29F, July 9- August 3. Kenan Research Center, Atlanta History Center.

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Gen. Johnston fell back across the river on July 19th 1864, and up to this time we have had but few quiet days. We can hear the cannons and muskets very plain, but the shells we dread. One has busted under the dining room which frightened us very much. We stay very close in the cellar when they are shelling. The Union Army has been bombing the city since General Johnston retreated on July 19, 1864. We stay in the cellar when the bombing starts.
Aug. 1. Monday. It was raining this morning and we thought we would not have any shelling today so I nursed Sister while Mama would do a little work, but before night we had to run to the cellar. It rained today and we thought there would be no bombs. I took care of my sister so Mama could work. Bombing started again in the evening, so we had to run to the cellar.
Aug. 2. Tuesday. We have not been shelled much today, but the muskets have been going all day. I have done but little today but nurse Sister. She has not been well today. Not much bombing today, but we can hear guns. I took care of my sister all day. She is not feeling well.
Aug. 3. Wednesday. This was my birthday. I was ten years old, but I did not have a cake times were too hard so I celebrated with ironing. I hope by my next birthday we will have peace in our land so that I can have a nice dinner. Today was my birthday, but I could not have cake. I had to iron instead. I hope next year the war is over so my birthday will be better.
Aug. 4. Thurs. The shells have been flying all day and we have stayed in the cellar. Mama put me on some stockings this morning and I will try to finish them before school commences. We’ve been in the cellar all day because of bombing. I am knitting stockings.
Aug. 5. Friday. I knit all the morning. In the evening we had to run to Auntie’s and get in the cellar. We did not feel safe in our cellar, they fell so thick and fast. I knit stockings all morning. This evening we had to run to my Aunt’s house because the bombing was so bad.
Aug. 15. Mon. We had no shells this morning when we got up and we thought that we would not have any to day (but, my, when will they stop) but soon after breakfast Zuie and I were standing on the platform between the house and dining room and a very large shell filled with balls fell by the garden gate and burst. The pieces flew in every direction. Two pieces went in the dining room. It made a very large hole in the garden and threw the dirt all over the yard. I never was so frightened in my life. Zuie was as pale as a corpse and I expect I was too. It did not take us long to fly to the cellar. We stayed there till nearly dinner and no more fell so we came out again and stayed out till night though we had them all day but they did not come so near us again. Today a bomb hit our property. Two pieces flew into our dining room, and it made a very large hole in our garden. I was so scared, I hid in the cellar the rest of the day.
Aug. 21. Sun. This was a dark rainy morning and we thought we would have a quiet Sunday but we were disappointed. Papa says that we will have to move downtown somewhere. Our cellar is not safe. We thought there would be no shelling today because of rain. Papa says we need to move because our cellar is not safe.
Aug. 22. Mon. I got up this morning and helped Mama pack up to move. We were glad to get out of our small cellar. We have a nice large cellar here where we can run as much as we please and enjoy it. Mama says that we make so much noise that she can’t hear the shells. I helped Mama pack and we moved today. Our new cellar is so big we can run around. Mama says we are so loud she can’t hear the bombing.
Aug. 30. Tuesday. Miss Fannie Homes came around this morning to see about her school. I was so glad to see my old teacher once more. I hope she will commence her school. I am tired of staying at home. My teacher came to see if I was interested in going back to school. I hope she will open school. I am tired of staying home.
Sept. 1. Thursday. Directly after dinner Cousin Emma came down and told us that Atlanta would be evacuated this evening and we might look for the federals in the morning. It was not long till the whole town found it out and such excitement there was. We have been looking for them all the evening but they have not come, yet. Mr. – came in to tell us that dear Cousin Henry was wounded and he thought he would not get well. We are so sorry to hear it. We loved him so much. I finished my stockings to day. We heard today the Confederate army is evacuating and the Union army will enter the city tomorrow. The whole city is buzzing. We also heard that Cousin Henry was wounded and might not recover. We are so sad because we love him. I finished my stockings today.
Sept. 2. Friday. We all woke up this morning without sleeping much last night. The Confederates had four engines and a long train of box cars filled with ammunition and set it on fire last night which caused a great explosion which kept us all awake. It reminded us of the shells–of all the days of excitement, we have had it today. Everyone has been trying to get all they could before the federals come in the morning. They have been running with sacks of meal, salt and tobacco. They did act ridiculous breaking open stores and robbing them. About twelve o’clock there were a few federals came in. They were picketed. In about an hour the cavalry came dashing in. We were all frightened. We were afraid they were going to treat us badly. It was not long till the Infantry came in. They were orderly and behaved very well. I think I shall like the Yankees very well. We couldn’t sleep last night. The Confederate army set fire to a train full of ammunition, and the explosion and fire kept us all awake. All day people have been looting stores, trying to get food before the Union Army arrives. We were afraid the Union Army would treat us very badly, but they have behaved very well so far. I think I shall like them.

Carrie Berry’s Diary, transcription, 1864-1874; 1897. Carrie Berry papers, MSS 29F, July 9- August 3. Kenan Research Center, Atlanta History Center.

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Background

In the summer of 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman, commander of the western Union armies, launched a campaign to destroy the Confederate Army of Tennessee and capture Atlanta, Georgia. By mid-July, Sherman had the city of Atlanta under siege. The fighting continued for weeks until the Confederates retreated from the city on September 1. Sherman would launch his infamous March to the Sea campaign from Atlanta on November 15, 1864.

About the Document

Carrie Berry was ten years old when the Union Army invaded her hometown of Atlanta. She kept a diary throughout the summer siege and occupation of Atlanta. Carrie’s diary contains a mix of entries about her daily life and brief yet moving accounts of the traumas she experienced. This excerpt covers her experiences from the start of the siege to the fall of Atlanta. 

Vocabulary

  • campaign: A series of military actions with a common goal. 
  • Confederate: Relating to the group of states that seceded from the United States before the Civil War in order to preserve slavery.  
  • occupation: When an area is controlled by a military force.
  • siege: When a military force surrounds a city or town to force those who live there to surrender.
  • Union: The name for the states that remained a part of the United States during the Civil War.   

Discussion Questions

  • How were the daily lives of the people of Atlanta affected during the siege of Atlanta?
  • How did the people of Atlanta respond when the city fell?
  • What was Carrie Berry’s first impression of the Union Army?
  • Why are civilian accounts of battles valuable to historical understanding?
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Themes

DOMESTICITY AND FAMILY

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