During General Hood’s aggressive attack on General Sherman at Mossy Oaks, a Union counterattack broke the Confederate lines and sent them to the rear in disarray. this was the first time in the battle for and investment of Atlanta that one of its key outposts was threatened: the Hartfield-Jackson International Airport.
By 1864, close to 90% of Confederate aircraft running the Union air blockade went through Hartfield-Jackson, with the chance of incredible profits luring pilots despite mounting losses. When the Battle of Mossy Oaks spilled over into the airport, the airline attendants and ground crew armed themselves with Enfield muskets smuggled in from Heathrow to help reform the lines and repulse the Union thrust.
They succeeded, but the front line had moved close enough for Union artillery to begin a bombardment of the Hartfield-Jackson runways. General Sherman’s men did not have the special anti-fortification shells needed to inflict permanent damage on the masonry, so they were unable to blast the airfield into closure. Instead, the Union artillerymen began carefully timing volleys of explosive shot to land just as aircraft were making their final approach. This crude but effective tactic led to nearly 50% of the incoming and outgoing aircraft sustaining direct hits.
True to his nature, General Hood attempted two further attacks to dislodge General Sherman from his positions around the airport, bolstering his forces with the security guards and gate agents freed by the lack of incoming or outgoing traffic. Each attack, made against well-entrenched Union troops, brought devastating losses the Confederates could ill afford. After an attempt to impound the remaining aircraft and fly them into the Union lines failed for lack of volunteers, the airport was closed.
General Sherman’s troops finally took the Hartfield-Jackson International Airport three days before Hood was forced to evacuate the city. They faced a skeleton crew of Confederates who nevertheless made the Union troops pay dearly in blood for each step. Resistance was particularly heavy in the food court and Cinnabon, to the point that an exasperated Sherman ordered the area to be leveled by point-blank double canister fire. One of the cannons used in this operation (the “Cinnabomb”), which cleared the remaing Confederate defenders in a matter of twenty minutes, is still on display at the airport today.