on August 9, 2009
The most fully realized depiction of wartime Atlanta from boom city in transportation, manufacturing and commerce to its siege, evacuation and destruction. He weaves well-chosen dialog and thoughts from letters, many diarists and contemporary newspaper accounts to paint a complete picture of the time. I was impressed that he was able to balance these threads while also keeping tabs on important outside action which effected the city -- always anchoring the story with the voices of those involved. Six accurate maps in the start help to pinpoint where everything happened.
In a great year for books covering Atlanta's history, "The Bonfire" stands out.
on August 29, 2009
Marc Wortman has done a masterful job of conveying a sense of deeply personalized history yet keeping the city of Atlanta itself as the central character in the story. When I read a pair of sentences such as the two that follow, I feel engaged in a gripping story:
"A Georgia up-country reel was in the offing in which the partners would approach like courting mates, touch briefly and tellingly, and then deflect across and away until they met again, around ridges and rivers, repeating their steps until, like lovers, they fell into a deep embrace. But here the embrace was that of war."
I love how people like Lincoln and Grant are mere peripheral characters, ones whose influences are certainly felt, but who are far from the core of the story. Instead, people like the slave/entrepreneur Bob Webster become our heroes (heroes not without flaws mind you) by tending to the Union wounded left to rot in the post battle sun.
The fascinating character of Sherman is presented in such a way that our focus on him becomes increasingly clear as the tale gets closer and closer to its climax and returns to him again in a contemplative fashion several years later in a post war Atlanta visit with his daughters.
I feel like I have just scratched the surface in terms of how much I appreciate this book. It is a wonderful accomplishment by Mr. Wortman and a gift to anyone who reads it.
on October 25, 2009
Marc Wortman hasn't so much written a book about the siege and burning of Atlanta as he has written a history of Atlanta covering approximately fifty years from its founding until its surrender to the army of William Tecumseh Sherman and its ultimate destruction. In doing so he has won the award for the most misleading book title of 2009, for his is not a book solely focused on "The Siege and Burning of Atlanta." A full third of the book passes by before Mr. Wortman comes to the outbreak of the Civil War, and nearly another third of the book passes by before his narrative makes its way to the Atlanta Campaign, the siege of the city, its surrender and burning.
What Mr. Wortman has done very well is given us a very detailed look at the history of Atlanta, seen through the eyes of its citizens; its wartime mayor, James Montgomery Calhoun (a first cousin once removed of Senator and United States Vice President John C. Calhoun), Mrs. Cyrena Stone a diarist with Union sympathies, and Robert Gadsby, a slave in title only, who may or may not have been the illegitimate son of Daniel Webster. It is interesting that Mr. Wortman chose three Atlantans with Unionist leanings as the main characters in a book about the siege and burning of Atlanta; Margaret Mitchell's Atlanta, this isn't.
The military history of the Atlanta Campaign, the siege of the city, its surrender and burning, have taken a backseat in Mr. Wortman's tome. Despite its title the siege and burning of Atlanta are not the main focus of this book. It's narrative, rather, is driven by Atlanta's Unionist inhabitants, which in and of itself is worthy of study. But in a book with a title, "The Bonfire: The Siege and Burning of Atlanta," one would expect to find a book solely dedicated to military operations instead of only a third of its 361 pages of text.
Mr. Wortman's book is well researched and written in an easily read style. It transitions easily from topic to topic, giving the book a nice narrative flow. "The Bonfire" is a great bargain for the book buyer, as it is several books all rolled up into one; a history of Georgia, the Indian removal (The Trail of Tears), the founding of Atlanta, an abbreviated genealogy of the Calhoun family, a biography of Robert Gadsby, and a history of the campaign for Atlanta, its siege and burning.
on September 26, 2009
"Bonfire" is "a film waiting to happen"~ The images elicited by the wonderful scenic descriptions, the remarkable characterizations and the overall exciting pace of the work make it a book most 'difficult to put down'!
The skilled generalship of the flinty Sherman and his cold-blooded determination to bring the Southern populace, civil as well as military, to a realization of the futility of further resistance has long been the central focus of any study of the battle for Atlanta.
Where author Wortman excells is in his technique of telling the story by repeated references to certain citizens of Atlanta, such as Mayor Calhoun, no partisan of the Confederacy~ Mrs. Cyrena Stone, a fervid Unionist and diarist of the daily experiences of the average Atlantan and~ for me, most wonderfully, the story of Robert Gadsby.
Gadsby, born into slavery, was the illegitimate son of the 'larger than life' politico Daniel Webster who had an affair with Charlotte Goodbrick, "a mulatto of uncommon beauty" who was owned by John Gadsby the operator of a eminent Washinton holstery: "Webster eventually bought Charlotte..Bob was not so fortunate."
After the death of John Gadsby, Bob Gadsby became the property of a wastrel son who promptly 'lost' the young slave in a card game. His new owner sold Bob into the ownership of a slave trader who found a buyer in Georgia for the young black.
It was thus that this intelligent, talented young man found himself far from the sophisticated world of Washington and living in a plantation far into the South. His talents as 'gentleman's gentleman', barber, chef, etc., soon ingratiated him with his new owners, there was a custom of the times which would enable a slave to 'lease' his freedom in exchange for a monthly stipend. Bob soon became an entrepreneur and at the time of the siege by the troops of Sherman, he was more than uncommonly wealthy. The suffering of wounded Union prisoners held little concern for the Rebel forces; they were unable to attend well to their own hospitalized military personnel. Gadsby organized a force of 'negroes' to give what assistance, as they minimally could, to somehow alleviate the distress of the Union prisoners.
As a black, he soon~ and uniquely, was to accompany the delegation of civilian Atlanta 'city fathers' who rode out to meet the Union forces of the advance column which entered Atlanta after Confederate forces withdrew.
This is a book with a unusual feel for the personages of those times and belongs in the library of anyone interested in the tragedy that was the Civil War. Sherman has the final word in the concluding passages of author Wortman's work:
"Here we were, claiming to be the freest people in all the world. and offering liberty to all mankind, and yet there was an abnormal state of things.There were 4,000,000 slaves in the United States and we had, in the heart of the country an institution antagnostic to the very principles of our government. So it had to be abolished."
It is necessary to understand that Sherman if reviled by many, even to this day~ carried out his campaign in such a fashion that Confederate Gen. 'Joe' Johnson was a grieving pall bearer at Sherman's funeral. The honoring of Sherman by Johnson, during inclimate wet weather, was to bring about an illness from which Johnson was to soon lose his own life.
It's all here! Don't fail to acqure Mr. Wortman's masterpiece!
on October 1, 2009
Wortman has found an interesting way to portray the history of a city over a half-century of development during trying time. Using Atlanta in 1864, when it was the center of the focus of war in the Western Theater, as the pivot point of his story, Wortman goes back to the period of the removal of the Native Americans from the area and brings his story up to the Civil War period. He does this by selecting a few of Atlanta's diverse citizens, telling how they came to be in Atlanta during the Civil War, what happened to them during this period, and what happened to the city at large. This is not a story of war, so much as it is the story of what war can do to a city and it's citizens. It is also a story of how such citizens face adversity. Wortman tells an interesting story, making the history of this city over this half-century come alive in a very personal way.
on October 11, 2015
A well-researched, interesting book about a painful episode in our history, particularly for those of us who are from Atlanta (or Georgia, or the South). I particularly enjoyed the author's description of the central figures and their life stories and personalities.
on December 25, 2009
Right Book, Wrong Title: The Bonfire
The Bonfire: The Seige and Burning of Atlanta, Marc Wortman, Public Affairs Press, 431 pp., illustrations, index, notes, bibliography, photo credits, $28.95.
How does a non-fiction book end up with the wrong title? A title that leads to disappointment. Bait and switch marketing department at the publisher? A literary agent? The author? CWL will give this book a more accurate, more provocative title. Rebel Phoenix: The Birth, Burning, and Rebirth of Atlanta during the Antebellum and Civil War Era Eras. That is an accurate and compelling labeling of Wortman's work.
Of he 361 pages of text, Atlanta begins to burn in the last 10% of the book. The first 20% concerns frontier Georgia with the very young William T. Sherman showing up at the future site of the city of Atlanta. Yes, Sherman was there, studying the topography of northern Georgia in 1844. A fine story well developed and handled by Wortman. The author finds and presents accounts of massacres survival stories of settlers by Native Americans in early north and central Georgia. These stories Wortman develops well and appreciative of the Georgians later stance on Cherokee removal.
In the next 20% Southern railroad history is developed and a northern Georgia crossroad is planned and labeled 'Terminus' maps. Wortman's chapters here are worthy of reading by anyone interested in American or Southern urban history, the notion of industrial modernization in a slave holding agricultural society.
The next 20% is Civil War history propelled forward by some remarkable Atlanta residents: slaveholders, slaves and freemen, and non-slave holding middle class members. The lives of James Montgomery Calhoun (a Unionist and slaveholder), Festus and Isabella Flipper (slaves whose son enters West Point Military Academy), George Washington Lee (commander of the Confederate Provost Guard) and Bob Yancey (African-American barber, currency speculator and friend to Union prisoners) and many others are well handled by Wortman who offers these individuals as illustrations of how men, women and families accommodate themselves to urban life during wartime.
In the last portion of the book, Sherman and his army reaches Atlanta. During the Confederate retreat from the city, Hood burns the railroad stock. During the Union advance out of the city, Sherman burns much more. Wortman does not excel a telling military history. He should have had a fact checker for the number of commanders Lincoln went through in the Army of the Potomac, the spelling of William Rosecrans' name, and the sequence of events at Chickamaugua and Chattanooga. For those who are looking for a superior military history and social/urban history of the capture of Atlanta and its two destructions, they should consider Bond's War Like A Thunderbolt. Wortman's style uses lots of adjectives and sometimes has lengthly sentences. On the other hand, Bond's is more reportorial and similar to Bruce Catton's Army of the Potomac trilogy.
CWL had trouble 'getting into 'Bonfire' mainly because a huge urban fire should have been around the corner. Upon realizing that Bonfire is urban and social history of a Civil War city, it became enjoyable.
on March 18, 2014
I have read dozens of books on Civil War Atlanta as I researched and wrote my novel, Yankee in Atlanta. The Bonfire, by Marc Wortman tops them all. This masterful work is distinguished by its spellbinding narrative, comprehensive context, and critical but lesser-known history surrounding the Atlanta home front as well as the military campaign for the city. My copy is underlined, dog-eared, highlighted and bracketed. As a historical novelist, this book was a dream-come-true type of resource. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the Civil War.
~Jocelyn Green, author of Yankee in Atlanta
on October 4, 2009
I thought the book was about Sherman's burning of Atlanta. The book actually covers from the founding of Atlanta thru the civil war. The use of historical characters and accounts of day-to-day living add real depth and understanding to the times.
on August 24, 2011
Mark Wortman did an excellent job in his step-by-step portrayal of Grants march from Chattanoga to Atlanta. He shows you thoughts of the commanders, Grant's perserverence, Joe Johnson's hesitation, and Hoods impulsiveness. Using primary sources, he also gives you an insight of the thoughts of the soldiers, citizens and newspapers. I believe this to be the best work on the fall of Atlanta ever published.