General William Tecumseh Sherman began his destruction of Atlanta on September 1, 1864. The Union army had fought a series of battles with the Confederates in Georgia all through the summer, growing closer and closer to the city which fell on September 2.
Under General Sherman’s orders, the army destroyed Atlanta and forced its citizens to leave their homes. Afterwards, he sent a militia officer, William Howard, to assess the damage. Out of 3,600 homes, only 400 were left standing.
While the targets were primarily military, there was no great effort to prevent civilian casualties and destruction of commercial property was considered necessary to winning the war.
The following January General Sherman wrote:
We quietly and deliberately destroyed Atlanta and all the railroad which the enemy had used to carry on war against us; occupied his State capital, and then captured his commercial capital, which had been so strongly fortified from the sea as to defy approach from that quarter.