The massive mural was sliced in two, rolled up into giant scrolls, and laid onto big trucks for the early morning move north.
Created in 1888, the Cyclorama was installed into a building at Grant Park near the Atlanta Zoo in 1921.
The massive circular mural that uses sound effects and rotational motion to tell the battle story was one of the last remnants of a once thriving entertainment technology from the late 19th century, killed by the movies and the phonograph. The painting vividly shows the battle, with realistic looking soldiers in blue and gray, cannon fire and smoke and the rolling topography.
For the massive artwork to fit into the Grant Park building, two sections had to be cut away. Over the years, thousands of Atlanta school kids made field trips to see the depiction of the battle of July 22, 1864, sitting in theater seats as the painting slowly rotated, giving an hour by hour account of the fighting. A favorite sight was the Federal Army's pet eagle, Old Abe, flying in the truncated blue sky, one of the sections that had to be mutilated to fit the structure into the building.
Historians say that the Union's pet eagle was not in Georgia that day, not the only bit of historic manipulation. Over the years, the Cyclorama was presented to the city's schoolchildren, black and white, as a heroic Confederate stand, part of the enduring "Lost Cause" mythology that spread through the South after the Civil War.
The campaign to make the Agrarian South the virtuous victim of the industrial North had huge effects over the region's literature in succeeding generations, from the influential Agrarian movement of the 1930s to C. Vann Woodward's "The Burden of Southern History," to Faulkner's novels and short stories and W.J. Cash's "The Mind of the South." Atlanta's own Margaret Mitchell, with her novel "Gone With the Wind," was a leading "Lost Cause" perpetrator. (One of the dead Union soldiers in the Cyclorama display has the face of Clark Gable, famed for playing Rhett Butler in the movie version.)
One of the best chroniclers of the Lost Cause is LSU historian Gaines M. Foster, who wrote a defining book, "Ghosts of the Confederacy," which studied the raising of Southern monuments throughout the region in the Reconstruction and post Reconstruction years.
In the last years of the Obama administration, in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, those monuments came under attack, with demands that they be removed. Over the years, many of the Confederate soldier statues once prevalent in Southern downtowns already had been taken away.
You'd think that some 150 years later, the country would be long past the Civil War and its underlying racial and regional conflicts. But just when we think they're laid to rest, they spring up once more.
Lost cause? The accused racist and neo-Southern apologist Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions of Alabama is now the attorney general of the United States. Much of the administration is under control of white supremacists who make Confederate romanticism part of their ideological stew.
The Atlanta History Center's historian Gordon Jones assured The New York Times and Atlanta Journal Constitution that the Cyclorama's new presentation will reflect a balanced view of the Civil War. The outgoing administration of black Mayor Kasim Reed spearheaded the Cyclorama's move, seeing the mural as an essential historic artifact deserving a more central place in the city's landscape.
After surviving several stages of deterioration through its years at Grant Park, the Cyclorama will receive the utmost care at the AHC. The sections amputated in 1921 will be restored, and the old mural will have plenty of space.
The popular cyclorama at the Gettysburg Battlefield is the only other surviving example of the technology. The Gettysburg mural shows Pickett's Charge, known as the high point of the Confederacy and a key element of the Lost Cause.
The Atlanta Cyclorama's nice new home in Buckhead lies near where another battle of Atlanta was fought only two days before the one shown in the mural. On July 20, 1964, the Battle of Peachtree Creek took place in Buckhead, Gen. John Bell Hood's first action after taking command from Gen. Joe E. Johnston.
Thousands of men lost their lives in that battle, now the site of Atlanta Memorial Park. Hard to imagine that only 48 hours after that bloody engagement, the Confederate forces mustered the will to throw themselves against the overwhelming Union forces once more.
The July 22 battle happened east of Atlanta, when Hood's men turned against a section of William T. Sherman's Army led by Gen. James McPherson. Although his Army of the Tennessee carried the day, the promising young McPherson lost his life, as the Cyclorama dramatically depicts.
Despite its superiority, the Union Army wasn't able to take Atlanta until September, boosting Abraham Lincoln's re-election and setting the stage for Sherman's March to the Sea.
Sherman's soldiers destroyed much of what existed in Atlanta in those days, leading to another overblown Atlanta myth of its "resurgens" from the ashes.
Now the Cyclorama will enter a new reincarnation at the AHC. After being sliced in two for its move uptown, the old painting will be patched back together and open for viewing in 2018. Generations of future Atlanta kids will look for Old Abe the Eagle flying high.
Yes, Bill Faulkner, you were right about the past.