Book Review: July 22: The Civil War Battle of Atlanta


by Earl J. Hess

Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2023. Pp. xviii, 411. Illus., maps, append., notes, biblio., index. $44.95. ISBN: 0700633960

Deciding the Fate of Atlanta

With this book Earl Hess has given us his sixth book covering different parts of the Atlanta Campaign, this time focusing on the Battle of July 22, 1864, which sometimes is referred to as the Battle of Atlanta. Hess has produced once again an excellent history of a Civil War battle, encompassing the history of the operations that resulted in a major battle East of Atlanta on July 22nd and 23rd, the aftermath of the battle, and its memory both for those who participated in it, and for those who regarded the battle as a decisive turning point in the Civil War.

The circumstances of the battle were that Gen. John Bell Hood had recently replaced Joseph E. Johnston as commander of the Army of Tennessee with a mandate for a more aggressive response to the advance of Gen. James B. McPherson’s Army of Tennessee at Bald Hill. After a long march around the Union flank, Hardee’s Corps caught McPherson by surprise, penetrated a gap between John Logan’s XV Corps and Grenville M. Dodge’s XVI Corps that almost turned the entire Left Flank of the Union Army, while a Cavalry Corps under Joseph Wheeler advanced into the Union rear.

Subsequent Union counterattacks restored the line, while Gen. McPherson was shot dead by the Confederates after he stumbled into their lines by accident. Hardee’s attack ultimately failed and the Union line held. The Union continued to advance its trenches to successfully cut the Confederate railroads supplying Atlanta, and some weeks later, Hood had to evacuate the city.

The argument for the decisive nature of the Battle of July 22 is that it represented the best chance for the Confederates to reverse General William T. Sherman’s investment of Atlanta. Because Hood failed, the fall of Atlanta became inevitable, and the seizure of Atlanta ensured the re-election of President Abraham Lincoln, which meant that Union victory in the Civil War was thereafter guaranteed. Hess takes that argument on directly, and argues that there still were opportunities for Hood after July 23 (some of which he has covered in other books) so to regard it as the endpoint or turning point of the Atlanta Campaign is incorrect.

Besides his usual tour-de-force of the battle narrative, Hess devotes some time to the post-war memory of the battle from both Confederate and Union sides. Controversies over who won the battle on the Union side were a particular source of controversy after the war. Hood himself tried to blame Gen. Hardee for the defeat, claiming the latter did not properly execute his plan of attack.

The deaths of Gen. McPherson and Gen. William Walker on the Confederate side are another focus of Hess’ book. Both men were popular with their men, and were much mourned at the time of their death. There has been some question of the exact spot where Walker was killed. The proper location for the Walker Monument, based on first-hand accounts of the general’s death, was not determined until 1932. In the case of McPherson, several Confederate soldiers claimed to have fired the shot that killed him (from first-hand accounts, Hess pinpoints the most likely candidate).

A volume in the UPK series “Modern War Studies,” July 22 represents an important addition to the scholarship of the Atlanta Campaign, of Hess’s accustomed mastery. Well worth reading.




Note: July 22: The Civil War Battle of Atlanta is also available in e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: Alexander Stavropoulos   

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