Taking Atlanta

By Kingseed, Cole C. | Army, August 2013 | Go to article overview

Taking Atlanta


Kingseed, Cole C., Army


Taking Atlanta Kennesaw Mountain: Sherman, Johnston, and the Atlanta Campaign. Earl J. Hess. The University of North Carolina Press. 352 pages; photographs; maps; notes; bibliography; index; $35. Publislter's website: umrw.uncpress.unc. edu.

Six weeks after departing Chattanooga, Tenn., in May 1864 in his quest to capture Atlanta, the armies of MG William T. Sherman encountered massive field fortifications constructed by Confederate GEN Joseph E. Johnston at Kennesaw Mountain. For Sherman, the ensuing battles outside Marietta, Ga., comprised the most desperate phase of his career. For Johnston, Kennesaw Mountain represented the best evidence that his Fabian strategy was successful in inflicting casualties on his adversary and delaying his advance to Atlanta.

In Kennesaw Mountain, historian Earl J. Hess provides an excellent analysis of the most critical engagements of Sherman's Atlanta campaign, including the fighting around Kolb's Farm on June 22, 1864, and Sherman's frontal assaults on the twin peaks of Kennesaw Mountain on June 27. Hess' book, "by necessity, is a study of high-command problems, decisions, and triumphs on both sides of no-man'sland, but it is also the story of common soldiers enduring and adjusting to the special rigors of continuous contact with the enemy." What makes Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park so significant is that the area contains the most important collection of Civil War earthworks in the Western Theater-remnants that are as important as those in the best battlefield parks of the Eastern Theater.

For Hess, Kennesaw Mountain is one of the more valuable Civil War resources in the country. He was so impressed by his initial visit in 1986 that he decided to make a career of studying field fortifications and their impact on tactical and operational levels of war.

Hess has written several books, including The Civil War in the West: Victory and Defeat From the Appalachians to the Mississippi. He is at his best as he discusses the most important lessons from the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. Several factors that distinguish Kennesaw Mountain from the majority of Civil War battles are the relatively short fields of fire that characterized the fighting and the effectiveness of well-constructed fieldworks. Despite the close-in nature of combat, Sherman directed the battle through the widespread use of the field telegraph, which provided him with nearly minute-to-minute intelligence of his opponent's tactics and operations.

Hess is not reluctant to offer his own opinion on the strengths and weaknesses of the belligerent parties. Here, he assigns neither commanding general glowing accolades. He views Sherman as a commander who was brilliant on the strategic offensive but whose "sense of how to conduct the tactical offensive left something to be desired." Hess is far more critical of Johnston and the corps commanders of the Army of Tennessee. He questions Johnston's delaying strategy and quotes Confederate corps commander LTG W. …

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