Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Booknotes: Decisions at Kennesaw Mountain

New Arrival:

Decisions at Kennesaw Mountain: The Eleven Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle by Larry Peterson (U Tenn Press, 2023).

Given how much attention has been paid to it on this site over the past few years, it's readily apparent that I am a fan of this series. A number of installments were published in 2023, the ones with missed coverage being Franklin, 1862 Shenandoah Campaign, and this one, Larry Peterson's Decisions at Kennesaw Mountain: The Eleven Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle.

From the description: "As Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman swept through Georgia in 1864, he fought several small battles against an ever-retreating Gen. Joseph E. Johnston who had replaced the beleaguered Gen. Braxton Bragg as leader of the Confederate Army of Tennessee. After heavy rains slowed Sherman’s advance, Johnston’s army entrenched along the Brushy Mountain line. Hemmed in by the mountains and impassable roads, Sherman noted in his reports to Washington, “Kennesaw is the key to the whole country.” Ultimately, Sherman would outflank Johnston and grind down his army’s defenses with a brazen frontal assault. Federal forces suffered 3,000 casualties compared to Johnston’s 1,000, and yet the Confederate Army of Tennessee was forced to retreat to Smyrna, and continued defeats led to Sherman’s infamous burning of Atlanta in August of 1864."

Like the other volumes in the Command Decisions in America’s Civil War series, this one "hones in on a sequence of command decisions that provides us, retroactively, with a blueprint of" (in this case, the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain) "at its tactical core. Identifying and exploring the critical decisions in this way allows students of the battle to progress from a knowledge of what happened to a mature grasp of why events happened."

You might be wondering how many truly critical decisions were involved in a battle such as Kennesaw Mountain, but the battle-focused series volumes also explore strategic, operational, and tactical decisions made both before and after the main fight. Here, Peterson organizes his eleven-decision analysis into four time intervals. The first (June 14-26, 1864) examines five critical decisions (all Confederate) that preceded the battle. Events related to the Battle of Kolb's Farm (June 21-22) are the subject of the next grouping of three decisions (one Union and two Confederate). A pair of tactical decisions (both Union) are connected with the June 27 Battle of Kennesaw Mountain itself, and the week-long period following the battle gets a single decision analysis (also Union). Nine maps accompany this part of the book.

The main feature of the volume's second half consists of the series-standard driving tour of sites directly related to the decisions examined in the first half. A further ten maps, along with a collection of modern photographs of markers, monuments, and sight lines, are included. The authored tour text is supplemented by extensive excerpts from official reports. All of the material presented in both main text and driving tour appendix is annotated. Orders of battle for both armies are also included.

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