Derek Weese's Reviews > War Like the Thunderbolt: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta

War Like the Thunderbolt by Russell S. Bonds
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May 29, 12

Read from May 01 to 26, 2012

This was not the book I expected, and it turned out to be a pleasant surprise.
I expected a more military centric story with details of exactly how Sherman was able to invest Atlanta and repel Hood's ferocious attempts to break the siege. That story was certainly there, and it was wonderfully told. But this book is also a story of the people of Atlanta, and of the city itself. In fact you could make the case that this book is a love letter to the city of Atlanta in general, and it's a beautiful one at that.
The city of Atlanta was burned to the ground during the war by Sherman's forces (under his orders) right before he began his epic 'March to the Sea' operation. Remarkably within just fifteen years of the end of the war not only was Atlanta rebuilt but it was bigger than before and already becoming the economic hub of the South. A remarkable story indeed.
The story is told, of course, from the perspectives of Generals William T. Sherman (Union) and John Bell Hood (Confederate) but also numerous junior officers, privates, and civilians living in and outside of the city. Although the narrative of the military operations is not as detailed as some military historians would like, the point of the book wasn't to detail those operations minutely, it was more to tell the story of Atlanta in it's darkest hour. In this the book succeeds quite well. Some of the most poignant vignettes are of a young girl who kept a diary during the siege and her descriptions of the Union Army's shelling of the city (civilians were killed though not in large numbers...this fact shocked a couple of my friends who didn't think American's did such things...um...Japan in WWII) as well as the story of a free black man who was also one the city's more prominent business owners and entrepreneurs. After the war he would go on to be one of the leaders in the city's rebirth.
There were quite a few moments of humor as well. Bonds, himself a Southerner, tended to find the best vignettes to portray the light heartedness typical of Southerner's even the ones in uniform. Nicknames have always been a function of American indeed world society. (Just ask the Chinese and the Ancient Romans) This was also true during the War Between the States where both sides gave pet names to their commanding officers but none more humorous than those offered by Confederate soldiers towards their commanders. W.H.T. Walker, a man who was about as staunch a Confederate as could be found as well as someone who happened to be magnet for bullets and shrapnel was given the rather irreverent nickname of 'Old Shot-Pouch.' Stephen D. Lee (No relationship to THE Lee) who happened to be bounced around from one assignment to the next was called 'Old Temporary' ('Old' even though he was 32...) while William J. Hardee was called 'Old Reliable'...this also had a double meaning: you could rely on old Hardee to always be where the pretty young girls were hoping to find himself a bride.
As for the Union side arguably the funniest vignette's are of Sherman who nowadays would possibly be labeled slightly mentally imbalanced as well as to the right of Genghis Khan politically at least in regards to his relations with the press. One vignette has him threatening to shoot a reporter. When asked why, Sherman merely shrugs and stomps off. Two Union sentries are conversing with two Confederate sentries and get into an argument over who started the war, one of the rebels blames politicians whereupon all four men quickly become good friends.
Bonds doesn't neglect the campaign for the city itself either and goes into good analysis from time to time especially in regards to Hood's generalship. After the campaign ends he spends the last hundred pages of the book detailing the attempts to rebuild the city and how Atlanta quite literally rises like the Phoenix from the ashes.
All in all it's a great book. I read it initially for good background refresher material for my Honor's Thesis and now call it one of my ten favorite books on history.
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