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Gen. McPherson's Gone With the Wind Note
By Fred Reed III

“Gone with the Wind” is the most popular Civil War novel and movie in history. Peggy Mitchell’s book and David O. Selznick’s movie are familiar to hundreds of millions. They tell the sad fall of an ambitious, indomitable heroine, a wily privateer, an heroic soldier and the girl he left behind, against the technicolor backdrop of a city put to torch and a way of life gone forever.

Mitchell’s book won a Pulitzer Prize, and sold 30 million copies. Many more have seen the 1939 movie that won nine Academy Awards. Total box office revenues worldwide are pegged at $600 million, many of them at 10-cent and 25-cent seat prices.

This book and movie vividly depict the Northern army’s invasion of the “Deep South” during the Civil War. The Union army slashed and burned across Georgia to the Sea, with Atlanta and Scarlett’s family plantation Tara, down the road in Clayton County, dead in the army’s destructive path.

In late spring 1864, after more than three years of armed conflict, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s army entered northwest Georgia to destroy rebel resistance and military resources in the state. Sherman’s forces numbered approximately 100,000 soldiers.

At Sherman’s right hand, as Commander of the Army of the Tennessee, was Maj. Gen. William Birdseye McPherson, who is depicted on Series 1890-1891 $2 U.S. Treasury Notes, so-called “Coin Notes” because “In Coin” appears on their faces.

McPherson, from Ohio, was an 1853 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. He served as Gen. U.S. Grant’s chief engineer in Tennessee. When Grant took command in the East, and Sherman command of troops in the West, McPherson became commander of the Army of the Tennessee March 12, 1864, weeks before the “march” south began on May 7.

Union forces entered Georgia near the key railhead at Ringold, Ga., only 115 miles northwest of Atlanta. He was opposed by CSA Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s rebel army, which was much smaller. The two armies clashed at Rocky Face, and Dalton, as Sherman forced southerners to fall back.

McPherson’s forces numbered about 24,000. He was tasked by Sherman with a flanking movement against Johnson toward Resaca, another 16 miles closer to Atlanta. On May 15 McPherson’s troops pushed the CSA left flank onto Calhoun, Kingston, Pumpkinville Creek, and through Dallas.

Southern forces attempted to check this northern advance, and did so briefly on May 25 at the Battle of New Hope Church within earshot of Atlanta. Sherman withdrew his forces to Kennesaw Mountain. The battle there lasted for weeks as Confederates dug in. Kennesaw Mountain was only two miles from Marietta, now an Atlanta suburb. On July 2 in another flanking movement, McPherson’s forces occupied the town of Marietta.

Two weeks later CSA President Jefferson Davis replaced Johnston with John Bell Hood, McPherson’s roommate at West Point. McPherson advanced. On the afternoon of July 21, he captured the outer earthworks surrounding Atlanta, and positioned himself on high ground above the city.

The next day the Battle of Atlanta began. In the afternoon, while riding under fire to the assistance of his troops near Decatur (another Atlanta suburb today), a Confederate sharpshooter shot and killed McPherson.

A couple days later, Sherman wrote his wife, “I lost my right bower in McPherson.” Still later he wrote, “McPherson’s death was a great loss to me. I depended much on him.”

The note on which Union hero and casualty of the Battle of Atlanta appears was authorized July 14, 1890, for the purchase of silver bullion under provisions of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act. Ironically, this law was authored by Gen. Sherman’s brother Sen. John Sherman.

McPherson was the highest ranking Union officer killed in the Atlanta campaign. The U.S. Army named its military headquarters in southwest Atlanta after him, at which the present author served for 17 months. So while Scarlett and her pals remain fictional heroes, McPherson was a real hero at Atlanta.

His bill would make an appropriate, if expensive, bookmark for your very own copy of GWTW.


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