Book Review: Day By Day through the Civil War in Georgia

Day By Day through the Civil War in Georgia
By Michael K. Shaffer
Mercer University Press    2022
$37 hardcover
Reviewed by Stephen Davis

For years—decades, really—the go-to source on Georgia in the war has been T. Conn Bryan’s Confederate Georgia (1953). Now comes Michael Shaffer’s Day By Day Through the Civil War in Georgia to supplant that estimable volume.

Shaffer’s approach is novel: tracing Georgia’s wartime experience not so much with his own narrative as by following it through the words of the folks back home—in letters, newspapers, diaries, memoirs and a rich array of other sources, such as Sam Richards’ well-known diary.

“In chronological order, readers will get a glimpse of life from just before secession until after the termination of the American Civil War,” the author writes in his Introduction. Take April 12, 1862, the day the Andrews train-thieves stole the General and steamed north—only to be captured a few miles below the Tennessee line. (Michael succumbs to William Fuller’s spat with Anthony Murphy after the event, when he writes “Conductor William Fuller and his crew”—Fuller was conductor of the General, true, but Murphy was foreman of the Western & Atlantic, and thus outranked the loud-mouthed conductor, who feuded with Murphy over bragging rights for decades after the war.)

Never mind. Michael’s assemblage of primary writings on the Atlanta Campaign, May-September 1864, alone makes this the source that any student of the Empire State during the War for Confederate Independence must have. (Shaffer’s sources are not simply Southern. He marks Sept. 27, 1864 with a letter from a Union soldier in occupied Atlanta.)

This is a book about Georgia in the war, more than about the war. On April 14, 1861, when one expects to see Georgia newspaper coverage of Fort Sumter, the editor has chosen an ad for slave sales appearing in the Atlanta Southern Confederacy. Moreover, on touchy subjects Shaffer shows a judicious hand. His work reports the Ebenezer Creek incident of Dec. 9, 1864, matter-of-factly, without the hyperbole over why Union general Davis cut the pontoon bridge before the freed people could get across.

An excellent, detailed index (prepared by the author) amplifies this work as a useful research asset.

In 1860 a million people lived in Georgia (of whom almost half were slaves). The state was a leading textile producer. 1,400 miles of railroads crisscrossed the state. And she gave some 120,000 soldiers to the Confederate cause. For these reasons alone, Michael Shaffer’s meticulous, day-by-day chronicling makes for an immensely notable addition to the bookshelf of wartime Georgiana.

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3 Responses to Book Review: Day By Day through the Civil War in Georgia

  1. John B. Sinclair says:

    Steve – Not sure what “hyperbole” you are referring to in regard to the Ebeneezer Creek incident? According to his biographers, Hughes and Whitney, Jef Davis had little sympathy for African-Americans and made an “inhuman” and “ethically indefensible” decision to pull up the pontoon bridge and leave the freed people behind to their fate. The incident created tremendous controversy at the time and cost Davis a promotion when it came before Congress. So we are not talking about an incident being judged solely by 21st century standards and perspectives.

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