Citizens of the Civil War


History Professor Wendy Venet’s new book brings to life the stories of Atlantans during the Civil War.

Downtown Atlanta rests in the heart of one of the most tumultuous areas of the Civil War. Before the war, Atlanta served as a railroad hub, making it absolutely crucial for the South as war infiltrated every corner of the young nation. Apart from Richmond, Va., Atlanta was the most important city for the Confederacy due to its number of hospitals, its key arsenal and its position as a hub for transportation of people and supplies.

As History Professor Wendy Venet walked through the streets of campus and reflected on the history of her whereabouts, her thoughts launched into the past.

“I became intrigued by a fundamental question,” she said. “What impact did the war have on the city and its people?”

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Venet’s new book, “A Changing Wind: The Commerce and Conflict in Civil War Atlanta (Yale University Press),” answers just that.

“The Civil War had a profound impact on the lives of its citizens,” she explained. “The population in Atlanta doubled, and while at first the economy flourished, living conditions eventually deteriorated and a growing number of Atlantans began to wonder — is this worth it?”

This is not the first time Venet has taken readers inside life during the Civil War. She edited the 2009 book, ”Sam Richards’s Civil War Diary: A Chronicle of the Atlanta Homefront” (University of Georgia Press), chronicled the life of local businessman Sam Richards who documented his life during and after the war, from routine daily events, religious observances and business dealings, to personal tragedies, the worsening conditions of the war and the Union siege in 1864.

“What I saw in the diary was a range of topics that I think other historians have not really recognized or pursued … like family life, business, religion, politics, theater and music,” Venet said of Richards’ diary.

For her new book, in order to construct a narrative of what life was like for Atlantans during the Civil War, she poured through issue after issue of the Atlanta Daily Intelligencer, an Atlanta daily newspaper first published in 1849, and The Atlanta Southern Confederacy, another newspaper published during the war. She explored the National Archives in Washington, D.C., to the Atlanta History Center, to the libraries and archives at several southern universities where she read diaries, letters and court records, she said.