"The Bonfire" sheds new light on Civil War Atlanta

August 24, 2009, News 12 at 6 O'clock

ATLANTA---A new book out this summer puts the spotlight on a terrible time in American history. A time when Americans fought each other, killed each other by the thousands and left the South in ruins. The book is called "The Bonfire, The Siege And Burning Of Atlanta." Marc Wortman is the author, and he knows he's retelling a familiar story.

"Well, to me, the story of Atlanta as lived by the people of Atlanta has never really been told, except in fiction."

And what better place to tell the story than the Civil War exhibit at the Atlanta History Center. But get ready to have your sense of history shattered.

"General Sherman loved the south. I know for many Southerners, that's hard to believe."

In 'Bonfire', Wortman paints a picture of an almost sympathetic Sherman who spent years living in the south and took it hard when southern states left the union to become the Confederate States of America.

"He loved the South and when secession came, he did weep."
"Despite his feelings for the South, and his feelings for the South were genuine and deep, he sided with the Union and then eventually did all he could to kill the Confederate army."

Wortman also writes about life in Atlanta during the war. How most people living here never thought the war would actually make it this far south. They were wrong.

"Here, Sherman was being disingenuous. He said there's no civilians left in the city, we won't harm any civilians. Well, there were people screaming out under 5 thousand shells a day."

'Bonfire' also describes a class of skilled slaves who actually managed to prosper during the war by moving freely between their Confederate captors and the Union soldiers captured by the Confederates.

"These slaves actually became currency arbitragers. They were people who were exchanging money between the 2 sides and making money off that exchange and a small number of them actually became rich during the war."

After years spent researching and writing "The Bonfire," Mac Wortman also gained an appreciation for the Confederate soldiers will to keep fighting.

"The Confederate army defended itself brilliantly. It defended a home territory against overwhelming forces. At the same time, the Confederate army didn't know when to say when."

And 145 years after that terrible summer, the war is still seems to have a life of its own.

"Lets talk about the south today, a place where Confederate flags aren't just flown in museums and basements, they're flying in people's front yards, still."

Well, I can understand taking pride in that heritage. That said, we have to understand we're one nation. The Civil War demonstrated that, it was forged in blood. We're one nation indissoluble and that union is permanent. And anybody who holds up the confederate flag to say- well, we're a pretend nation, I think is making a bad mistake."

"The Bonfire" also describes one last visit by General Sherman. It's something you won't find in many history books. The Union General came back to Atlanta 15 years after leaving it in ashes. The man who brought war to the South was welcomed at the train by the mayor who gave Sherman and his wife and daughters a tour of the city.

"The Bonfire--- The Siege and Burning of Atlanta" is in bookstores this summer.


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  • by Ginger Location: Martinez on Aug 26, 2009 at 07:37 AM
    Excellent piece! Refreshing to hear about the Civil War in a different way.
  • by Brad Location: N.C. on Aug 26, 2009 at 04:19 AM
    Sherman loved the South? A union forced upon the South by war does make a voluntary union. If Sherman loved the South why then did he burn and pillage it? Why did he starve the Southerners? If Sherman loved the South then why did he go to war against her when the South had the right to succeed? Did Lee burn any of the north or pillage it no, but he could have ordered it if so he choose. The Confederacy formed a new country and was invaded by the U.S. The South was richer than the north prior to the war and Lincoln and his cohorts wanted to keep the South in the Union for the taxes if produced, not for any lofty ideas of free slaves. The slave issue came up when Lincoln needed to look towards his reelection and when the north was loosing it's taste for the war. There were northern states during this time that had laws barring blacks from moving into their states to live. Lincoln in speeches declared blacks as unequal to whites.Free slaves were in the South at this time staying/living.
  • by Louis Location: Hephzibah on Aug 25, 2009 at 02:03 PM
    I am a history buff and really enjoyed Richard's report on the burning of Atlanta. I am hoping that you make more of them because they are interesting and a lot better than the gloom and doom that seems to fill the news today. It is refreshing and interesting that you aired such a good story. Keep up the great work.
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