The good folks at PublicAffairs Books sent me a review copy of Marc Wortman’s The Bonfire: The Siege and Burning of Atlanta viewable on my virtual bookshelves here. I decided to create a shelf specific to “Civil War Sieges” because this book doesn’t quite fit in other categories. That uniqueness is part of its draw.
Full disclosure: This is my usual “pre-read” post where I’ll share some early impressions. Wortman had me before page one because he put six nicely done maps right up front. His poignant introduction left me with no recourse but to read on. A small excerpt:
War is cruelty. Its bloodshed and destruction – the “hard hand of war,” as Sherman really did call it – struck Atlanta with a greater ferocity than it has any American city in history. This is the story of how Atlanta and its people came to be in the direct line of the whirlwind, what one of the besieged city’s Confederate defenders called “a grand holocaust of death.” (Wortman, 2)
Having read the first chapter, I can say that Wortman has a talent for turning a phrase. His depiction of a devastated Atlanta on the morning of September 2, 1864 put me there.
A reeking sulfurous stew that stung the eyes had already settled over the town, filling the railroad cuts, hollows, and streets. Its tendrils wavered along the hillsides and ravines and sifted through the blackened skeletons of what once were houses and factories, railcars and machine shops. It was the silence, though, that shocked people most. Three predawn hours of gut-rattling, earsplitting, and window-shattering explosions and gunfire made the previous night feel like the announcement that the Apocalypse had finally come. But the infernal noise had ended shortly before morning’s light tipped into the eyes of those hunkered down within the earth. (Wortman, 5)
From reading just a few chapters of book, its TOC, and its index, I can add that Wortman’s work emphasizes the broader historical context of the war, covers the importance of railroads during the Civil War, provides insights into the conflict as seen from the perspectives of common soldiers and citizens, and draws upon a substantial amount of primary sources. All of these are pluses.
I look forward to a thorough reading.
An earlier book published by PublicAffairs Books in May of 2007, The Millionaires’ Unit: The Aristocratic Flyboys Who Fought the Great War and Invented American Air Power, also looks like a great read and I recently ordered a copy. Per the publisher, it is in development as a major motion picture. Of note, both of Wortman’s histories are available in Kindle versions which means you can begin reading them in about 40 seconds.