Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Booknotes: July 22

New Arrival:
July 22: The Civil War Battle of Atlanta by Earl J. Hess (UP of Kansas, 2023).

From the description: "So remarkable was the fighting to the east of Atlanta on July 22, 1864, that it earned its place as the only engagement of the Civil War to be widely referred to by the date of its occurrence. Also known as the Battle of Atlanta, this was the largest engagement of the four-month-long Atlanta Campaign for control of the city and the region. Although Confederate commander John Bell Hood’s forces flanked William T. Sherman’s line and were able to crush the end of it, they could go no further. On July 22, 1864, the Confederates came closer to achieving a major tactical victory than on any other day of the Atlanta Campaign."

As remarkable as the July 22 Battle of Atlanta may have been, it would be the year 2010 before the first modern standalone study would be published, Gary Ecelbarger's The Day Dixie Died: The Battle of Atlanta. Before that, Albert Castel's 1992 classic Decision in the West contained the most detailed account of the battle. Ecelbarger's landmark work was later augmented by David Allison's Attacked On All Sides: The Civil War Battle of Decatur, Georgia, the Untold Story of the Battle of Atlanta (2018). Now, prolific-as-ever military historian Earl Hess has thrown his hat into the ring with July 22: The Civil War Battle of Atlanta, his fifth book covering some aspect of the campaign.

More from the description: Earl Hess’s July 22 "is a thorough study of all aspects of the most prominent battle of the Civil War’s Atlanta Campaign. Based on exhaustive research in primary sources, Hess has crafted a unique and compelling study of not only the tactics and strategy associated with the engagement but also of the personal experiences of Union and Confederate soldiers and the effects the battle had on them. This book offers fresh insights to the significance that the Battle of July 22 held for the larger Atlanta campaign and the entire Union war effort. Hess also provides a thorough discussion of the death of Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson, the most prominent casualty of the battle, and the effect this loss had on Union soldiers and civilians alike. He concludes with an assessment of the battle’s legacy in American history and culture." In a welcome break from recent practice, Hess's decision to commission a set of maps (27 in number) from an outside source is a noticeable improvement.

This has all the hallmarks of yet another Hess-authored must-own title. The preface contains a fairly lengthy sketch of what Hess sees as major differences in content, research, and interpretation between Ecelbarger's study and his own. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like any previews or 'search inside' tools containing the preface text are freely available for prospective buyers to peruse. Suffice it to say that Hess's book, in his words, offers a "wider and deeper research base," provides a "more holistic understanding of the battle," and doesn't share Ecelbarger's views on the battle's "decisive" significance "within the context of both the Atlanta Campaign and the Civil War" (pg. xii-xiii).

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