In the spring of 1864, Marietta residents knew the Yankees were coming. They could hear the booms of cannon like distant thunder. Wounded soldiers and farmers from points north were streaming in.
This didn’t mean Mariettans weren’t starting to get scared upon William T. Sherman’s approach. On May 21, 1864, for example, the Confederate army’s closing of Marietta hospitals and the removal of supplies caused a public stampede from the town southward.
A few months later, Marietta, like Atlanta 18 miles to the south, was burned by federal soldiers, though on a smaller scale. The courthouse and downtown buildings were set afire on Sunday, Nov. 13. Like Atlanta, it was an important railroad hub.
Maj. Henry Hitchcock was with Sherman during the arson, and heard his boss say, “I never ordered burning of any dwelling — didn’t order this but can’t be helped. I say Jeff Davis burnt them.”
Such details are explained in Marietta historian Stephen Davis’ latest very readable tome, 356 pages, “Into Tennessee and Failure: John Bell Hood,” the second volume of his remarkable study of Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s chief understudy, recently published by Mercer University Press.
The first volume, “Texas Brigadier to the Fall of Atlanta,” (544 pages) traces Hood’s rise from lieutenant of cavalry in Virginia to commanding general of the Army of Tennessee and his zealously-fought but utterly unsuccessful failure to defend Atlanta. The latest, “Into Tennessee and Failure,” traces Hood’s move into north Georgia and Tennessee, where he met disaster at Franklin and Nashville. (Both hardbacks, $35, Amazon.com and Mercer University Press, www.mupress.org.)
Davis, 72, author of seven books on the Atlanta campaign and hundreds of scholarly articles, is considered one of the nation’s top experts on Hood, his successes and failures. And no wonder, he has 3,200 Civil War books in his personal basement library, which he’s been collecting since high school and which he’s dubbed the Brig. Gen. Clement Anselm Evans Memorial Research Collection.
A Virginian who was raised in Atlanta, Davis holds a master’s from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and a Ph.D in history from Emory University. He speaks regularly to Cobb County groups and others across the country, including roundtables, Rotarians and once to the Society of Civil War Surgeons.
“Texas Brigadier” spells out how Hood took over from Gen. Joseph Johnston just before the Battle of Peachtree Creek (July 20, 1864) and the Battle of Atlanta (July 22). In this book, Davis shows how Hood proved himself an accomplished leader, but whose fatal flaw, ambition, led to mistakes, causing failure at Peachtree Creek and two days later east of Atlanta in the battle depicted in the Atlanta History Center’s Cyclorama.
“His performance was good, but no better,” Davis says. “I began writing about the Atlanta campaign in the late ’80s. Happily, more than a century and a half after the Civil War, there is still previously unknown material about John Bell Hood to be found and discussed,” which he sometimes does at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park.
Trivia is one of his strong points. For example, he says that in late June 1864, Johnston’s headquarters in Marietta were at the Atkinson House, “and I’m still trying to track down where that was.”
Sherman’s famous March to the Sea started just a few days after his soldiers burned the Marietta courthouse. According to Davis, more than 10,000 Union soldiers are among the 13,000 dead in the sprawling Marietta National Cemetery, established in 1867 just outside of town. Bodies of Union dead were hauled in from all over Georgia, most from the Atlanta Campaign.
“Land was cheaper in Cobb County than in Atlanta so it was established in Marietta,” Davis says.
Bodies of Confederates were brought in for burial at Marietta’s Confederate Cemetery from all over, about 3,000, representing all Rebel states. The books feature many full page maps. Taken together, the two volumes constitute the first full-length biography of Hood in nearly 40 years. Readers will recognize lots of familiar and local names, including Kennesaw Mountain, Dallas, New Hope Church, Gilgal Church and Burnt Hickory Road, among many others.
Andrew Wagenhoffer, editor of Civil War Books and Authors, called volume one “worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Albert Castel’s classic study.” He also posted the newest volume among his top 10 Civil War books for the year.
“I’ve been hooked on the Civil War since fourth grade,” Davis says. “Understanding it, why it happened, what led up to it, is critical to the understanding of our country today. The book I’m reading now, ‘The War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl,’ is pencil-priced up front: $5.75. Try finding that kind of deal today.”