The Day Dixie Died: The Battle of Atlanta
by Gary L. Ecelbarger, Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2010, $26.99
GARY ECELBARGER IS QUICK TO point out in this excellent new book that the political implications of the Battle of Atlanta are what made it “the most decisive battle of the most decisive campaign” of the Civil War. With the public weary of a costly and seemingly endless war, and Abraham Lincoln in genuine danger of losing his re-election bid that November, Ecelbarger posits that the outcome of the war would have been altered had the Confederates won the battle on July 22, 1864. Since Democratic Party officials had already indicated they were prepared to accept the seceded states’ independence, the Union victory at Atlanta assured Lincoln’s re-election and sealed the Confederacy’s fate.
The watershed battle occurred after John Bell Hood, in command of the Confederate Army of Tennessee for only three days, decided to attack William Sherman’s force as it threatened Georgia’s vital business capital. In sharp contrast to the fighting-retreat style of former commander Joe Johnston, Hood aggressively struck the Federals at Peachtree Creek on July 20. The attack failed, but Hood stayed on the offensive. Ecelbarger provides a wonderful analysis of the eight-hour battle that ensued on the 22nd. Hood’s casualties that day (8,500 total to the Union’s 3,641) ultimately proved too great to overcome. He was forced to withdraw from the city on September 1, and Atlanta’s mayor formally surrendered the city the following day.
Originally published in the January 2011 issue of America’s Civil War. To subscribe, click here.