Monday, April 26, 2010

Review: War Like the Thunderbolt

War Like The Thunderbolt: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta
By Russell S. Bonds

In the introduction to his book, “Causes Won, Lost & Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know About the Civil War,” Gary Gallagher states that “More people have formed perceptions about the Civil War from watching ‘Gone With The Wind’ than from reading all the books written since Selznick’s blockbuster debuted in 1939.” While that is certainly true, it is even more so when talking about the fall and burning of Atlanta. So it seems only logical that author Russell S. Bonds, should choose to start the preface of his book, “War Like The Thunderbolt: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta”, with the filming of the burning of Atlanta for “Gone with the Wind.” Thus even before turning the first page of his magnificent tome, Mr. Bonds has succeeded resetting his readers expectations.

Though Mr. Bonds does an excellent job summarizing Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign, “War Like The Thunderbolt,” is not a blow by blow account of that campaign, its battles or the military movements thereof, but instead, it is a sweeping narrative of the history of Atlanta, limited in its scope to the events in and around that embattled city from July to October of 1864.

The author also peppers the beginning of his narrative with brief biographical sketches of all the prominent players in the drama about to unfold, most notably William Tecumseh Sherman, Joseph E. Johnston and John Bell Hood. Once again Mr. Bonds has pushed his readers reset buttons, as he gives them a great analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each, and does not fall into the preconceptions of previous historians, but instead, he lets his readers come to their own conclusions.

The narrative of the battles around Atlanta is fair and balanced, and again Mr. Bonds declines to pass judgment on those events or their outcomes, but rather he gives the reader all the information they need to know to make their own judgments.

The heart of Mr. Bonds’ book is the city of Atlanta, so much so it is nearly a character itself. Even as Sherman’s army closes in around it, his narrative finger is always on the pulse of the city and what is happening within it. The author follows the city and its citizens closely during its siege and fall, its occupation, the expulsion of its citizens and its burning. Even after its near total destruction, and desertion by both armies, and in fact the end of the war itself, Mr. Bonds does not forget about Atlanta. Though its pulse was quieted in 1864 it was never completely gone. The city survived and in his final chapter Mr. Bonds tells of its recovery and rebirth.

Mr. Bonds, a lawyer in Atlanta, closes his book with a brief “Author’s Note: Atlanta’s Lost Battlefields” which ends with a bit of advice for his readers who may find themselves driving up and down Tara Boulevard in Jonesboro looking for the home of Scarlett O’Hara, “It’s not there, and never was.”

ISBN 978-1594161001, Westholme Publishing, © 2009, Hardcover, 544 pages, Photographs, Illustrations, Maps, Appendices, End Notes, Bibliography & Index, $29.95

1 comment:

Peter Brown, Instructor said...

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