Book Review–Hidden History of Civil War Savannah

Jordan, Michael L. Hidden History of Civil War Savannah (Civil War Series). Charleston: Arcadia Publishing. 2017. 159 pages, index, selected bibliography, notes, b/w photos. ISBN 9781626196438, $21.99.

Attracting nearly 14 million visitors a year who make an economic impact of over 2.5 BILLION dollars, Savannah is a tourist mecca whether it be for partying such as St. Patrick’s Day, the food and drink selections, or for business. There is no doubt many of these visitors will be taken by the beauty and the history this city has to offer. Of those interested in history a high percentage will certainly be interested in the Civil War if for no reason other than the  famous words sent by William T. Sherman to President Lincoln; “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.” A book such as this will be a good introduction to the city for those interested in the “late unpleasantness” or maybe a souvenir for the armchair historian.

Nine different aspects of Civil War history in Savannah are covered in the book. The first chapter jumps right into the fray by discussing Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens “Corner-stone Speech” from March 21, 1861, given in Savannah. It was in this speech that Stephens uttered the words; “…that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery–subordination to the superior race–is his natural and normal condition.” Those looking for the cause of the war should probably look no further.

Further chapters cover the story of local hero Francis Bartow and his untimely death during the Battle of First Bull Run. An interesting story here concerns the placing of what might be called the first battlefield monument in his honor, though it was later destroyed by relic hunters and Union soldiers.  Future Army of Northern Virginia leader Robert E. Lee made stopped in the city before the war and then returned after the war in the spring of 1870. The story of the ill-fated ironclad CSS Atlanta is told here for those with an interest in naval concerns. The hard to maneuver, deep drafted ship never did put up a good fight as its multiple design flaws led to it running aground during its first battle.

As the war continued the number of prisoners of war increased and as the war came further south, in March 1864 Savannah became home to more than 600 Union officers who had been captured and imprisoned. Before being transferred to Charleston these men remarked on the decent food provided, the shade of the live oak trees, and humane treatment by guards. In October more than 7,000 prisoners being evacuated from Andersonville called Savannah home for a very short time. Despite conditions being better than they were accustomed to, more than 100 of the ill prisoners died while in the city.

The final chapters tell the story of the Confederate Army escape from the city in anticipation of the arrival of Sherman and his men. A seemingly out-of-order chapter on the Savannah fire of January 1865 that while not set by Union troops occurred while they inhabited the city tells an interesting story considering the legends of Sherman burning his way through the state. The story of the citizens of Savannah wanting to rejoin the Union, particularly once the city was occupied by Union forces is given a chapter. The book closes with the mandatory chapter on Confederate memory in the city. Efforts by the local Ladies Memorial Association and their contribution to the Laurel Grove North (read that as white) cemetery are covered well. The history, and controversy, over the large Confederate monument in Forsyth park is well told.

Overall I found this to be a good introduction to the city and it’s part in the war. This is certainly not a full in-depth treatment and much more could be said. For most however this is a book that will fill their needs. It covers some basics, includes plenty of notes for those wanting to find further sources, and is easy to read.

For those wondering, this is not a tour guide. If that is what you are looking for you should also consider picking up a copy of Civil War Walking Tour of Savannah. This book contains two walking and two driving tours that will lead you to many well-known, and some lesser known locations. These two books, taken as a pair, will be more than enough for the majority of visitors.

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