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Behind us lay Atlanta, smouldering and in ruins, the black smoke rising high in air, and hanging like a pall over the ruined city… Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

“War so terrible” : Sherman and Atlanta    New York : Norton, c 1987 James Lee McDonough and James Pickett Jones Atlanta Campaign, 1864, Sherman, William T. (William Tecumseh), 1820-1891 Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing.     xx, 385 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.     Bibliography: p. 353-367. Includes index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG

After an embarrassing performance at the First Battle of Bull Run, General William Tecumseh Sherman endured the fate suffered by many a Civil War officer who disappointed their commanders in the East — he was sent to the west and worked with Ulysses S. Grant, a commonly disregarded soldier due to perpetual alcoholism. Finally, given a command only through the attrition of other inferior field grade officers, Sherman hoped to not only foil Southerners capacity to continue but to “make war so terrible that they will realize [its futility], however brave and gallant and devoted to their country . . .”

War so Terrible presents the vilified Union campaign which resulted in the fall of Atlanta and is largely a narrative of the Atlanta campaign, but it does provide some speculation and perhaps the greatest conjecture of the book is the attention to the railroads and the assertion that the campaign was “a big railroad war” and conclusion that railroads were “indispensable for Sherman’s Atlanta campaign”  The authors’ conclude that Sherman appreciated the value of the railroads more than the Confederacy did, and he successfully used them to his advantage.

McDonough and Jones make a strong case for the significance of the Atlanta campaign in helping end the Civil War.  They stress the growing importance of Atlanta as a railroad hub and production center (the “turntable” and “workshop” of the Confederacy), showing that its loss proved to be a great logistical blow to the South.  They also observe the psychological implications of the campaign, noting that the Confederate defeat disheartened the South and boosted morale in the North – which may and may not have been aware of the terror tactics being employed by Sherman.

Finally they acknowledge that without a decisive victory by the Union army before November 1864, Lincoln’s re-election remained doubtful so the campaign, and the press proclamations of a great victory, contributed to Lincoln’s reelection in the pseudo-election of November 1864. And here also is the tell – where initially they may have attempted to present an even-handed account, providing an introductory chapter followed by two chapters from different perspectives, first from Sherman’s viewpoint and then an account through the eyes of Braxton Bragg and Joseph E. Johnston – they conclude with what turns into an unbalanced account of the Atlanta campaign, an idealization of Sherman as a modern warrior and the only soldier who comprehended the necessary reality of total war.


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