Kennesaw Mountain: Sherman, Johnston, and the Atlanta Campaign by Earl J. Hess (review)
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Kennesaw Mountain: Sherman, Johnston, and the Atlanta Campaign. By Earl J. Hess. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013. Pp. 322. $35.00 cloth)

In Kennesaw Mountain, Earl Hess argues that the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia represented a significant departure from the turning movements that had characterized Union army operations up to that point in the Atlanta campaign. At Kennesaw, General William T. Sherman instead ordered frontal assaults against several points along the heavily fortified Confederate lines. By attacking, Sherman hoped to break through the Confederate center and make it difficult for Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston to execute a successful withdrawal across the Chattahoochee River to the south. Instead, on June 27, 1864, the Union assaults at Kennesaw, involving fifteen thousand attackers, resulted in a defeat for Sherman’s army, which sustained around three thousand casualties. The Confederates, protected by log and dirt breastworks, suffered approximately seven hundred casualties.

General Johnston claimed that the Confederate victory at Kennesaw proved that the Fabian tactics he had engaged in to that point in the campaign could work. Unfortunately for Johnston, Union movements on June 27 across Olley’s Creek on the Sandtown Road at the far southern end of the Kennesaw line provided Sherman with what he termed “the only advantage of the day.” The Union crossing of Olley’s Creek was significant because it threatened to interpose Federal troops between the Confederates and their line of retreat across the Chattahoochee. As a result of this Federal flanking movement, Johnston [End Page 300] evacuated the Kennesaw line on July 2, falling back to another line at Smyrna, and then a position on the Chattahoochee River, the last natural barrier between Sherman’s hosts and the city of Atlanta.

Kennesaw Mountain is a deeply researched study, based on an examination of a wide array of manuscript collections and published primary sources. Although the focus of the book is the Battle of Kolb’s Farm on June 22, 1864, and the larger engagement fought at Kennesaw five days later, Hess also devotes brief chapters to the campaign’s movements prior to Kennesaw, as well as the post-June 27 actions along the Kennesaw, Smyrna, and Chattahoochee River lines. Hess, author of numerous books examining Civil War battles and campaigns, tactics, and field fortifications, pays particular attention to the geography of the battlefield and the impact of entrenchments on both the tactical and strategic levels. A fascinating appendix to the book contains a description of early preservation efforts at the battlefield beginning in the 1890s, as well as numerous diagrams and explanations of some of the well-preserved field fortifications located within Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park.

Although Hess clearly sees the battlefield park as a valuable resource, it is unfortunate that he did not interact more with the park’s past and present staff. Park historians could have pointed out dated information in the appendix, particularly the section titled “Buildings.” The Marietta Country Club, which Hess says stands on the site of the Georgia Military Institute, moved to another location several decades ago. The Andrew J. Cheney house was not only standing “at least until the 1960s,” but still stands today. Hess would also have benefitted by getting second opinions on some of his interpretations of existing earthworks from park historians who have studied these features for many years. Despite these criticisms, Kennesaw Mountain is the best book written to date on the Kennesaw Mountain phase of the Atlanta campaign and will probably remain so for years to come. [End Page 301]

Keith S. Bohannon

Keith S. Bohannon teaches history at the University of West Georgia. He is currently completing a book manuscript on the northeastern Georgia mountains in the mid-nineteenth century.

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