Monday, February 12, 2024

Booknotes: The Cassville Affairs

New Arrival:

The Cassville Affairs: Johnston, Hood, and the Failed Confederate Strategy in the Atlanta Campaign, 19 May 1864 by Robert D. Jenkins, Sr. (Mercer UP, 2024).

With a title like The Cassville Affairs you're getting either a very British Cold War spy drama starring Michael Caine or a new look at an important and controversial episode in the 1864 Atlanta Campaign. Thankfully, at least for our purposes here, we are getting the latter. The Cassville Affairs: Johnston, Hood, and the Failed Confederate Strategy in the Atlanta Campaign, 19 May 1864 is the third 1864 North Georgia campaign study from attorney, author, and battlefield preservationist Robert Jenkins, the first two of which [here and here] addressed in great detail the period between the end of Kennesaw Mountain and the indecisive result of the Battle of Peach Tree Creek.

A major battle was planned by Confederate Army of Tennessee commander Joseph E. Johnston for May 19. During it, Johnston expected to hurl the greatest portion of his army against a vulnerable segment of William T. Sherman's advancing army group. The expected offensive miscarried when corps commander John Bell Hood, who held the Confederate right, spied approaching Union forces of unknown size beyond the army's flank, suspended his attack, and notified Johnston of the unexpected state of affairs. Johnston then made the decision to retire the Confederate army southward and take up a new ridge-top defensive position. Johnston wanted to make a stand there, but two of his corps commanders (Hood and Leonidas Polk) insisted that enfilading fire from Union artillery rendered the new line indefensible. Disappointed at their attitude, Johnston determined to retreat once again. However, not every major player involved in the distressing happenings of May 19 agreed with Johnston's version of events.

From the description: "Civil War historians have remained baffled over the Cassville controversies for the past 150 plus years. There are two versions of events: Confederate commanding General Joseph E. Johnston's story, and Lieutenant General John Bell Hood's story." On May 19 there "were two critical decisions that the Confederate leadership faced at Cassville: first, whether to attack a portion of the Federal army in the morning; and second, once the morning attack was no longer feasible, whether to stay and fight the next day. Both decisions were the responsibility of Johnston, and both decisions involved advice and assistance by Hood. Johnston issued a General Order to all soldiers that morning proclaiming that the army had fallen back enough and would now turn and face the enemy. After a series of unforeseen circumstances, however, the Southern commander withdrew without a fight."

In supporting its detailed text, the volume does not skimp on visual aids. With 21 originals and 16 others reproduced from previously published sources, the map collection is particularly impressive.

Predictably, given the personalities involved and the gravity of what occurred, the Cassville blame game was both heated and prolonged. More from the description: "Before the war even concluded, Johnston and Hood began finger-pointing as they wrote their own versions of what happened that day. Since then, historians have been scratching their heads as to who was telling the truth, or if either one was honest." With its "new revelations," The Cassville Affairs "promises to change our understanding of the events surrounding the Cassville controversies and close the gap in its history."

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