Review: War Like the Thunderbolt: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta

(Ed. Note: This review was of a prepublication proof of War Like the Thunderbolt, which is due out in September 2009.)

War Like the Thunderbolt: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta
by Russell S. Bonds

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Westholme Publishing
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594161003
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594161001

Atlanta is the focus

WarLikeTheThunderboltAtlantaRussellSBondsThis is not the book I expected.  My expectations were 544 pages of front, flank & feints dealing with Sherman’s maneuvers around the city.  My expectations were a book long on battle details, Confederate army politics and the election of 1864.  The Preface of my book could not start with filming the burning of Atlanta for “Gone With the Wind”!  My expectations for this book and the author’s insights are why one of us writes reviews and the other writes books!

Russell S. Bonds, the author of the excellent “Stealing the General”, turns a military campaign into a history of Atlanta from the arrival of Sherman’s armies to when they abandon the city.  By placing the city in this critical role, he emphasizes how important Atlanta is in the Fall of 1864.  Sherman vs. Hood or Hood vs. Johnston is not the major story.  The major story is Atlanta trying to survive as part of the Confederacy, then as an occupied city and last as a desolate ruined shell.  Starting with “Gone With the Wind”, ties the popular understanding to the real events in 1864 and how we see them now.

This is a complete history of Atlanta from July to October 1864.  The first 90 pages are a summary of the campaign coupled with an excellent introduction of Sherman, Johnston and Hood.  This introduction is followed by about 260 pages of solid history that never losses Atlanta as the central character.  The presentation of battles is on the division level, which works very well in this type of history.  Each battle is covered, with maps in the proper places.  The assessment of the results is fair to all parties.  The problems of terrain, subordinate commanders exceeding orders or failing to follow orders, the wearing down of the men and refusal to properly plan are detailed.  The reader must judge as the author refuses to fall into the Crazy Bill or Old Wooden Head trap.

The heart of this book is the city and the civilians.  The constant thread is what is happening inside the city to the people and the physical structure.  We cheer armies marching to battle, watch the sad parade of wounded, bury the dead and suffer the bombardment.  After the city falls, we endure the occupation, the expulsion of the people and the “Burning of Atlanta” as Sherman leaves.  This emphasis makes this unique book such a fine history.  The city is the focus and the author never allows us to lose our focus.  In doing so, the reader comes to understand the importance of Atlanta as a symbol in 1864.

The chapter “Resurgens” tells the story of Atlanta’s recovery to about 1886.  These twenty pages is a look at how the South recovers from the war and the process of reconciliation.  This is complemented by an excellent Afterword covering the major players and how we came to view their actions.  The author includes a “guide” to the lost battlefields, always a sad part of any book.  Atlanta did little to preserve the battlefields but the author gives us an idea of where they are and their present condition.

This is a fully footnoted indexed book with many illustrations, campaign and battle maps.  The footnotes expand the text and are worth reading.  This may not be the definitive book on the battle and burning of Atlanta but it is one that needs to be read.  It is a valuable addition to my Atlanta Campaign books and will stay in my library.

Editor’s Note: Jim is a Top 500 reviewer.

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