Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Day Dixie Died: The Battle of Atlanta

       I just finished reading The Day Dixie Died by Gary Ecelbarger. This is probably the only book devoted entirely to the July 22, 1864 Battle of Atlanta. It begins talking about the upcoming United States presidential election. If the Union armies didn't show some success somewhere there was a very good possibility that Lincoln would have lost the election and the South may have gained its independence. 
       I enjoyed the first few chapters immensely. Mr. Ecelbarger briefly discusses the Confederate change of commanders with John Bell Hood taking command of the Army of Tennessee. He then jumps right into Hood's plan for the coming battle. Hardee asked Hood to adjust the point of attack so he could get his men in position in time for the assault. (Ironically, Hardee would be about five hours late after Hood agreed to the change.) 

Lieutenant General William J. Hardee

       I had read somewhere that Cleburne made the slowest march of his career the night prior to the Battle of Atlanta. The author (I can't remember the source) stated that Cleburne was overrated as a Confederate general and historians had covered up his mistakes at Atlanta. Mr. Ecelbarger does an excellent job explaining the problem with the night march. 

Major General Patrick R. Cleburne

       Cleburne's division had fought hard the day before the battle just east of Atlanta. He reported that it was the hardest fighting his division had seen during the entire war and his division had seen plenty of action. He was then forced to wait for Hardee's entire corps pass by the rear of his division before withdrawing his men from the enemy in his front. He then had to march in the rear of the rest of the corps which stalled quite often. I can see no fault in General Cleburne's performance at Atlanta. 
       Once you get to the actual battle in the book, Mr. Ecelbarger goes into so much detail with unit numbers that the reading becomes a bit difficult. I had to force myself to continue reading at times. I usually enjoy the fighting part of a good Civil War book more than the building up to the fighting, but that wasn't the case with The Day Dixie Died. 

Major General James B. McPherson

       Mr. Ecelbarger spent a good deal of time talking about the death of Federal Major General James B. McPherson (the highest ranking Union officer killed during the war) which I found very interesting. 
       He did an excellent job talking about the participants in the battle. He discussed Major General Frank Cheatham and his lack of experience in command of a corps. His attack from the west was out of sync with Hardee's attack and was just supposed to be a diversionary attack as ordered by Hood. Cheatham broke through the Federal center, capturing cannons and forcing units to retreat only to be counter-attacked and driven back where he had began his attack. 

Major General Frank Cheatham

       The last chapter discusses how the battle affected the presidential election. Mr. Ecelbarger then goes into detail about the history of the Atlanta battlefield (it no longer exists) and the Atlanta Cyclorama (doesn't even include the flank attack which almost rolled up the Federal lines the way Jackson did at Chancellorsville). 
       Overall, its a very good book, just a little overly detailed for my taste during the combat. Mr. Ecelbarger tends to tell you every unit number and which company's were absent or detached. Some may enjoy all the unit numbers and etcetera, but I'm just not one of those guys. 

Part of the Atlanta Cyclorama

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