When thinking about past events it is easy to speed up time. For example, several events occurring over a few weeks can be interpreted in just a few days especially once they hit the movie screen.
Atlanta’s involvement in the Civil War is one such example, and I blame Gone with the Wind for the “speedy” version most people have in their minds.
We see Aunt Pitty upset because Yankees have reached Georgia as she is evacuating the city. The Battle of Atlanta occurs, Miss Melly has her baby and that scoundrel Sherman burns the town.
What a day!
However, those events occurred over several weeks.
The Battle of Atlanta occurred on July 22, 1864 with the Rebels retreating from the city.
The Mayor of Atlanta didn’t surrender the city to the Union until September 2, 1864 following a five week siege.
While there were some heart wrenching events during those weeks of siege many folks in the city of Atlanta tried to get on with some semblance of normalcy.
In his book, The Bonfire: The Siege and Burning of Atlanta, Marc Josef Wortman states, “Thumbing their collective rebel noses at Sherman amid the siege, Atlanta’s party life went blithely on. Distillers sold corn whiskey to soldiers, and prostitutes serviced the troops behind the lines. Officers went to festive balls, where bands played while fiery exploding shells passed overhead.”
One such ball was given by the Atlanta Medical College on August 12, 1864 just twenty-one days after the Battle of Atlanta.
The Atlanta Medical College would eventually become Emory University’s School of Medicine. I’m uncertain as to why the school decided to give a ball during the siege of Atlanta since they had suspended lectures on July 3rd, but they did.
One of the young ladies who attended the ball happened to be Sarah Collins, a woman described as beautiful and held a “high position in the first circles of the city.”
Sarah had arrived in Atlanta a year earlier as a refugee from Memphis.
The Medical College ball would be her last event.
In the midst of war in a city that was under siege, Sarah was murdered.
The newspaper at the time….the Daily Intelligencer reported the murder of Sarah Collins describing the event as “the most horrible crime that has ever been committed in [the city of Atlanta].” She was found strangled in her bed. The Daily Intelligencer reported “her throat was perfectly black where she had been choked, her arms were bruised, and her body terribly mutilated; her clothing was torn and muddy as though she had been drug through the mud by some villain who had violated her person.”
Unfortunately, due to the chaos of the times with no real law enforcement no one was ever brought to justice for the murder of Sarah Collins.
To my knowledge the murder remains an unsolved crime with very little written about it other than the article that appeared in the Daily Intelligencer during August, 1864.