Bonds, Russell S. War Like the Thunderbolt: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta. Westholme Publishing, Yardley, PA. 2009. 522 pages, 410 pages of text. Index, bibliography, notes, b/w photos, 10 maps.
Russell Bonds set the bar high for himself with his first book Stealing the General. In War Like the Thunderbolt he has leaped even higher and is setting huge expectations for whatever his third book may be.
War Like the Thunderbolt tells the story of William T. Sherman and the burning of the city of Atlanta. This is done from the interesting perspective of the city itself rather than being a straight "war" book. The city and its residents are a major focus with what becomes of them seeming to be the ultimate goal. We see the vibrancy, the destruction, and the resurrection of this leading city.
Bonds starts off with an introduction to the major players and the fact that Sherman eventually decides his target to be the city of Atlanta rather than Joe Johnston and his army. The reason being that Atlanta is of huge value to the Confederacy. Taking Atlanta would cripple the Confederacy due to its importance as a rail hub and the value of the city in getting reinforcements and supplies to troops.
Bonds builds the story through the preliminary battles and does a great job describing the situations. From the terrain of the marches to the wearing down of soldiers to the lack of following through on orders by commanders Bonds leads us to the inevitable that started on September 1, 1864. Here the orders to evacuate Atlanta were given and the Confederates began destroying what they could not take. The occupation of Atlanta begins and private citizens were ordered to leave the city unless they had special permission to stay. Rail cars were packed and people took everything they could. As Sherman burned his way through Georgia the Union set destructive fires in Atlanta started November 11 with most of the damage occurring on the 15th and 16th.
Bonds spends several pages at the end discussing the rebuilding efforts that occurred after the war. Sherman himself was surprised at the efforts when he made a return visit in 1879. Bonds wraps up the book with a short note titled "Atlanta's Lost Battlefields" where he takes us on a brief tour of what has happened to the land where much blood was shed. Atlanta is not much of a sentimental city and most of the battlefields have been paved over and have houses and businesses on them. Most of what is left are the Atlanta Cyclorama, cemeteries, and some historical markers.
Despite living in the Atlanta area Bonds leaves the reader to make their own conclusions as to who is responsible. What I took away was that Sherman must bear a considerable amount of the guilt for the destruction of civilian property that took place. Many of Sherman's orders proved vague and soldiers carried them out as they saw fit. In addition there was little discipline on the part of soldiers and little to no punishment handed down to those who violated orders.
As I said Bonds has set the bar even higher for himself with this work. The writing is crisp and the research extensive. The book moves along at a quick pace. The notes are almost as readable as the text itself. The inclusion of maps and b/w photos help the reader with the action. The book isn't long on strategies and tactics but does prove to be an excellent work on this crucial period of the war. Highly recommended.
As an FYI the paperback version of this book will be released on September 2, 2010 according to the Facebook page for the book.