I attended Mass Sunday morning at The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. The current church building dates from 1873. Underground Atlanta is very close to the church.
In 1861, Father Thomas O’Reilly was appointed pastor of the Atlanta Catholic Church. It was finally renamed from “Atlanta Catholic Church” to its present name in 1873. His pastorate was to be shaped by the War Between the States. He ministered to Union soldiers as well as those of the Confederacy (of which he was an official Confederate Chaplain), he became known personally by many individual Union soldiers. Catholics in the Federal army also attended his Masses during the siege and occupation of Atlanta .
In 1864, after hearing of an order to General Sherman to destroy and burn the city of Atlanta, Father O’Reilly warned General Slocum of Sherman’s army staff that if they persisted in the plan to burn down the Catholic Church, Sherman would face massive desertions of the Catholics in the Federal ranks. (A majority of Sherman’s forces on this campaign were said to be Catholic, and many had personal knowledge or experience of Father O’Reilly.) During Sherman ’s burning of Atlanta , some of these Federal soldiers did help to protect the church by preventing the setting of fires too near the church building .
Father O’Reilly’s intercessions with Sherman ’s staff also apparently saved the Court House, City Hall, and several other churches including St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, Trinity Methodist, Second Baptist, and Central Presbyterian. All were saved from destruction.