Sherman’s Battle For Atlanta, by Jacob D. Cox
There are advantages and disadvantages to having history written by participants. This particular book was written by one of the higher officers in Sherman’s army, one who would later lead a corps in the final campaign in North Carolina, and as a personal account there are clear agendas that the author has in seeking to counteract the lost cause myth that exaggerated Union advantages in manpower during the Atlanta campaign fight. Yet at the same time the author himself did not write with the benefits that later writers would when it comes to having the full official documents to the campaign. As a result, the reader must decide the extent to which the author’s personal loyalty to Sherman as well as his personal opposition to the Lost Cause is a sufficient reason to view this as a less than credible account altogether. Speaking personally, I found the author’s personal discussion to be engaging and sometimes poignant, and the author has a lot of worth when it comes to respecting Johnston’s masterly retreating if noting that he was not quite as much a master of war as some were, a way of giving credit to a skilled foe.
This book is about 250 pages long including some appendices. The book begins with a list of maps and then some preliminary movements (1), including the successful effort to secure Eastern Tennessee (2). After that the author discusses the opposing armies at the beginning of 1864 (3) and their lines before Dalton as the campaign began (4). This leads to the battle at Resaca (5) and movement of the troops to the Etowah, where the next Confederate line was at (6). The author then discusses the march on Dallas (7) and the battles at New Hope Church and Pickett’s Mill (8), as well as the resulting lines around Marietta (9) which led to the conflict at Kennesaw Mountain (10). Sherman’s march across the Chattahoochee (11) led to Johnston being replaced by Hood and Battle at Peachtree Creek (12) and then Atlanta (13) and Ezra Church (14). Eventually the Battle of Jonesboro (15) led to the fall of Atlanta, which had some dramatic political results (16), but which had strangely indecisive military results as Hood continued to attack Sherman’s supply line (17), which is where the book ends, after which there are appendices that discuss the strength of the Confederate army (i) and its organization in the field (ii, iii), the Battle of Alatoona (iv), and the decision of Sherman to ignore Hood and march to the sea.
The Battle for Atlanta was largely one of maneuver, but at the same time this book is at its most compelling when it discusses battles. And the campaign of Atlanta itself is a strangely indecisive one. After the conquest of the city, Sherman found himself still chasing Hood and faced with the question of what would result from victory. Yet the results of that decision made to send some troops to Tennessee and take the rest on a pleasurable time of looting and pillaging in Georgia and South Carolina were left for other volumes. So this book begins with the aftermath of the Battle of Chattanooga and ends with the prelude to Nashville and the March to the Sea, and this is the sort of book that clearly requires some context in understanding its point. It is well worth appreciating the way that Sherman’s army masterfully moved through the difficult terrain of Northern Georgia to take over the city of Atlanta at minimal loss to his own men, and even though the campaign was not decisive in a military sense, the conquest of the city demonstrated to Northern voters that the war was going well, and allowed the victory to end up happening.