Friday, September 8, 2017

Booknotes: The Battle of Peach Tree Creek

New Arrival:
The Battle of Peach Tree Creek: Hood's First Effort to Save Atlanta by Earl J. Hess
 (UNC Press, 2017).

Nice cover art, too.
I came back from vacation and there was only one lonely book in the mail pile, Earl Hess's The Battle of Peach Tree Creek. In terms of numbers and variety of new releases actually sent my way, this summer has been an exceptionally dreary one. Things are looking up a bit for the fall and winter, though, as there is a good-sized stream of promising titles in the offing...until, of course, many miss their dates and get pushed on down the line into next year.

From the description: "Offering new and definitive interpretations of the battle's place within the Atlanta campaign, Earl J. Hess describes how several Confederate regiments and brigades made a pretense of advancing but then stopped partway to the objective and took cover for the rest of the afternoon on July 20. Hess shows that morale played an unusually important role in determining the outcome at Peach Tree Creek--a soured mood among the Confederates and overwhelming confidence among the Federals spelled disaster for one side and victory for the other."

I actually read this one several months ago and sketched out a review back then. I typically don't read ARCs and never review solely from them, but the ones from UNC Press are essentially the release version minus an index. I plan on posting the final version of the review next week. I'll just need a little while to check my notes to see which concerns were addressed, if any. Included with the review will be brief commentary comparing Hess's book with the earlier one by Robert Jenkins, The Battle of Peach Tree Creek: Hood's First Sortie, July 20, 1864 (2014).


  1. Drew,

    Do you think Earl will continue on his Atlanta Campaign theme with books on the Battle of July 22 as well as the Battle of Jonesboro? There really hasn't been a good book treatment of the later fight.

    Bill Gurley

    1. Bill,
      He's mentioned before that he has Jonesboro in the works, but, as far as I know, he is still leaving the Battle of Atlanta to Gary's fine book.

    2. Johjn FoskettSeptember 09, 2017

      Good news on Jonesboro, if it happens. The other gap in the battle history of this campaign is Resaca. I recall Dave Powell making some noises about taking that one on. It's remarkable how much has been published since Castel's study, which entered something of a wasteland at the time.

    3. For what it was, I liked Secrist's little book on Resaca, but, like you say, a fuller treatment would be much welcomed. It would be interesting to read what Powell thinks about McPherson there.

  2. Isn't it a bit over to top to say a book offers "definitive interpretations" about the battle's place in the campaign?

    No one else can ever comment on it?

    1. That's standard promotional fare from marketing departments. I just expect it and don't let it bother me too much.

  3. Johjn FoskettSeptember 09, 2017

    Looking forward to the Jenkins comparison. Jenkins' book strikes me as a unit history "gone big" - and if I recall correctly, that's how it started out. There are spots where I wondered whether the Yankees actually showed up for this fight. Hess to me represents a unique blend of "prolific quality". Is his upcoming release on logistics in your sights, as well?

    1. Right. Jenkins would have been much better off separating the regimental history part into another book or long essay. It was distracting. I think it is fair to say that Jenkins packed in more granular detail at the micro-tactical level but Hess's treatment is far better organized and more coherent overall.

      The logistics book was one of the titles I submitted on my LSUP review checklist, so I hope to get it. I say 'hope' because some publishers send you all the titles from the list, some are selective, and some (to my eternal bafflement) even send none of the requests.

  4. Drew

    Thanks for the information on this. I think Hess's prolific output has produced works that are usually well received. It will be interesting to see what is next for him after the logistics book and when it will show up. He has a tendency to select subjects that no one else has taken up for a while if ever. Don

  5. I enjoy Earl Hess' work and gave his Bragg biography high (very high) praise in a published review.

    However, I just finished Chapter 1 of this new Peach Tree Creek study and am deeply disappointed in his handling of Hood. He cites the Hood Papers book in his biblio (but not the other recent Hood book--a double award-winner) that destroys most of the popular myths about Hood.

    Yet Hess continues to repeat discredited (and demonstrably so) canards and seems to go out of his way to paint Hood in the worst possible light as if Wiley Sword's discredited pen on this topic is channeling through his pen. It baffles me, and it is stunning an academic press would let these through without significant challenge--or at least a "See also..." in the notes for other points of view.

    For example, he alleges that Hood lost the use of an arm at Gettysburg. No, he did not. Everyone writing about this until his Papers were found was offering 100% speculation (indeed, we did not even know the precise nature of the wound until Hood's surgeon's report was found and digested). In fact, Hood recovered almost the complete use of his arm.

    Another unfortunate tendency is Hess' reliance on the 3+ decade-old biography of Hood by my friend Richard McMurry, who wrote without any of the large cache of Hood's papers and who copied much of the false narrative. In fact, Richard has bravely and honorably stepped away from his own work in significant ways, admitting he was wrong on many points.

    Hess also inserts Hood's decision to retreat at Cassville into the narrative with the implication Hood retreated because he did not wish to assume the offensive and follow Johnston's orders. IN FACT, Hood's claim the Union troops were on his flank and even firing into it (something historians openly mocked for decades) was verified with letters by the Union commanders found in his Papers. (Indeed there might even be proof in the OR others simply overlooked).

    All of this and more is easily available, and yet Hess continues writing about Hood as if none of his personal papers that thoroughly contradict many of these charges have been found.

    I am sure his battle coverage will be much better, but his handling of Hood is troubling to me.


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