Union general William Tecumseh Sherman did more than excuse wartime savagery by declaring “War is hell”—he also dealt the Confederacy a mortal blow by destroying its most beautiful city. In The Bonfire: The Siege and Burning of Atlanta, Marc Wortman pulls from diaries, letters, and other first-person accounts to create a chilling narrative of the leadup to and execution of the Civil War’s most popular piece of trivia. Like most military works, The Bonfire relies heavily on numbers to give a sense of impact (e.g. “General William Tecumseh Sherman hunched with his eighty-five-thousand-man Union army somewhere in woods and fields out past the seven miles of surrounding earthworks”), but Worton also writes about the smaller, more human events that occurred on the eve of Atlanta’s destruction: Like Robert Webster, the slave who never believed he’d see freedom, that is until Sherman’s arrival seemed inevitable, at which point Webster began to demand that he be addressed not by his owner’s name but by his father’s.
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