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War Like the Thunderbolt: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta

by Russell S. Bonds, Westholme Publishing

Not long after the end of the war, Northern journalists head ed south to report on conditions in the former Confederacy. For many, war-ravaged Atlanta was a key destination—the city’s core had been left a smoldering wreck after its capture by William Sherman’s army in the summer of 1864. The Yankee scribes created a vivid chronicle of life amid the rubble. As one wrote in November 1865, Sherman’s mark “was still written too plainly…in gaping windows and roofless houses, heaps of ruins on the principal corners and traces of unsparing destruction everywhere.”

What brought the “Gate City’s” inhabitants to this plight is the subject of Russell Bonds’ War Like the Thunderbolt: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta. He highlights the battles along Atlanta’s perimeter—Peachtree Creek, Bald Hill, Ezra Church and Jonesboro—and the death throes of the city, once a hub of Southern commerce, manufacture and transportation. But rather than making it a tactical study or campaign analysis, Bonds strives to create a panorama of events from firsthand accounts. While he cites one historian’s claim that “more Americans have formed perceptions about the Civil War from watching Gone With the Wind than from reading all the books written by historians,” he also notes “there has been little serious consideration of the city’s ordeal—the five-week artillery bombardment, the expulsion of its civilian population, and the devastating fire that follow – ed.” Bonds admirably fills these gaps.

Atlanta became a railroad center and industrial stronghold in the first half of the 19th century—and the war would fuel its growth, spawning factories, arsenals, warehouses and hospitals. Its population soared to nearly triple its prewar total. “This place,” Georgia Governor Joseph Brown said of Atlanta in the summer of 1864, “is to the Confederacy almost as important as the heart is to the human body.”

Russell Bonds gives an often chilling report of how the city’s “heart” was surgically removed. Any one who reads his account will surely agree that “War is hell.”


Originally published in the August 2010 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here