Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Review of Davis - "ALL THE FIGHTING THEY WANT: The Atlanta Campaign from Peachtree Creek to the City's Surrender, July 18-September 2, 1864"

[All the Fighting They Want: The Atlanta Campaign from Peachtree Creek to the City's Surrender, July 18-September 2, 1864 by Stephen Davis (Savas Beatie, 2017). Softcover, maps, photos, driving tour, appendices, orders of battle, reading list. 191 pp. ISBN:978-1-61121-319-5. $14.95]

Given the enormous scale of the 1864 North Georgia Campaign and the relatively tight constraints of the Emerging Civil War series of topical overviews, it's entirely appropriate that Stephen Davis's treatment would be spread over two volumes. In 2016, Davis took readers to the gates of Atlanta with A Long and Bloody Task: The Atlanta Campaign from Dalton through Kennesaw to the Chattahoochee, May 5-July 18, 1864, and, as promised, the companion book All the Fighting They Want: The Atlanta Campaign from Peachtree Creek to the City's Surrender, July 18-September 2, 1864 is now appearing a year later.

Like the first book, there is a lot of ground to cover in the second volume. Davis begins with a brief discussion of John Bell Hood's Civil War career and ascension to command of the Army of Tennessee at a critical moment in the Atlanta Campaign. What follows this introduction is a series of chapters recounting the Battle of Peach Tree Creek, The Battle of Atlanta/Bald Hill, Ezra Church, the various Union cavalry raids conducted behind Confederate lines, the decisive severing of the last rail line into the city between Rough and Ready and Morrow's Station, and the Battle of Jonesboro. Davis's narrative style is well-suited to the popularly-focused ECW series. It's masterfully succinct (only a handful of pages can be devoted to each battle), expertly zeroing in on the most salient points of interest associated with each event. It's also lively, with occasional charming moments of cheek.

Davis is the modern authority on the bombardment of Atlanta [he wrote the book on it (What the Yankees Did to Us: Sherman's Bombardment and Wrecking of Atlanta, 2012)] and a chapter is devoted to the shelling of the city. The majority of the civilian population was evacuated beforehand, which helped keep non-combatant casualties relatively low.

One of the freshest and most interesting discussions is contained in Chapter 12. In it, Davis recounts Hood's successful efforts at partially replacing his considerable losses from the three late-July battles around Atlanta*. Through internal sources like scouring army hospitals for able-bodied men, granting amnesty for AWOL individuals, recalling soldiers from detached/extra duty, drafting teamsters, reducing the gun crews of every artillery battery by one man, and soliciting the expansion of the state militia contingent (eventually to 5,000 men), Hood was actually able to materially increase his fighting numbers in the weeks following Ezra Church.

The leadership traits of the opposing high commands as expressed in the book are generally in line with current understanding. In All the Fighting They Want, readers find a passive Joe Johnston who would not roll the dice and risk his army, an operationally brilliant William T. Sherman who preferred sweeping movement to direct assault, and a John Bell Hood who also sought to strike at the enemy through maneuver yet was seemingly cursed by the fortunes of war to end up attacking in front. Davis, like Albert Castel and others before him, can be quite critical of Sherman's battlefield generalship, but he does clearly express a deep appreciation of the magnitude of Sherman's accomplishment and the uncommon skills that were required in achieving it. Beyond the obvious choice of the senior Hardee, it would have been interesting to read the author's thoughts on viable alternate candidates to Hood for succeeding Johnston.

A proliferation of maps and images has always been a notable strength of the ECW series, and readers will not be disappointed here. Given the unfortunate truth that urban sprawl has almost entirely obliterated the Atlanta battlefields, Davis makes up for the paucity of visually interesting landmarks and landscapes with a photographic catalog of seemingly every surviving historical plaque in the area. This particular book probably has the richest photo captions of the entire ECW series, too. The driving tour hits 12 stops in metro Atlanta related to the three July battles. In the appendix section, you'll find a photograph and text catalog of Atlanta monuments, a brief description of the artifact collections held by the Atlanta History Center, and a short history of the Atlanta cyclorama (which was moved to the History Center in 2016, with a grand opening planned for 2018). Orders of battle complete the volume.

Representing the condensed knowledge of a noted authority, A Long and Bloody Task and All the Fighting They Want together offer readers a fine introduction to the Atlanta Campaign. Given the status of the Atlanta battlefields as some of the foremost victims of urban sprawl and missed preservation opportunities, the second volume also serves as a useful record of surviving landmarks and monuments.

* -  Davis notes the July 10 Army of Tennessee official strength return as 59,196 and casualties from the July 20, 22, and 28 battles as 10,800, for an end of July army strength of 48,396. Unless another point escaped notice, I'm not sure why the author deems that number "remarkable" given it's precisely the expected figure. Regardless, the official August 10 return indicating a 3,500+ increase in manpower without outside reinforcement is remarkable.


  1. Hello Drew

    I would also like to know Mr. Davis's thoughts on other possible choices to lead the confederate army when Hood was selected to lead.

    Don H.

  2. Thank you for the review of “All the Fighting They Want.” We appreciate your review and are glad to hear you enjoyed the book! Those interested in checking out this book can read more at the Savas Beatie website here:


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