03357 - U.S. troops in Confederate fort; Atlanta, Georgia; 1864 [LC-DIG-cwpb-03357 ]
While remembered today as the starting point of Sherman’s march to the sea, the “Battle of Atlanta” during the Atlanta Campaign was the end of McClellan’s political ambition. Running on a “peace” platform, the former Commander of The Army of the Potomac was campaigning against Lincoln by promising to call for a truce with the Confederates. Both sides realized that this would have been the end of the war. This could have resulted in something similar to the Korean War. While a truce was called in 1953, officially the war has never ended and the two sides remain at odds.
With the fall of Atlanta and Sherman’s subsequent march to the sea it was clear that the South could no longer sustain a fight and the end was now only a matter of time. Had this battle failed it would have strengthened McClellan’s position and perhaps allowed him to take the presidency from Lincoln. If this had been the case, it is unclear if either side would have had the will to resume fighting and may have allowed the truce to end the conflict.
Effectively, this would have split the United States in two and would have negated the Emancipation Proclamation that had gone into effect the year before. A prolonged truce (such as the one from the Korean War) may have had devastating long term effects. Would the South have sided with the Axis powers during World War I & II? Would the North have been able to fight the Spanish American War if it did not have the ability to launch from bases in the South? With the South as a separate military power would the North have continued expanding to the territories between Texas and California? Would some of the Border States have finally broken away and joined the South? Probably one of the most devastating consequences to both sides would have been the admission that the Union could be broken. While it is easy to see the split as just North vs. South, each state could then decide that it did not want to be part of the United States (or Confederacy) and we could easily be fifty separate countries today rather than one united country.
This was not to be. With Atlanta securely in Union hands, Lincoln had the victory that he needed to ensure a win not only in the war but in the election. In the end McClellan’s political ambitions would be over within two months of the end of the Atlanta Campaign and the war would be over less than six months later.