Sunday, June 20, 2010

Secrist: "THE BATTLE OF RESACA: Atlanta Campaign, 1864"

[The Battle of Resaca: Atlanta Campaign, 1864 by Philip L. Secrist (Mercer University Press, 2010). Softcover, 13 maps, photographs, notes, bibliography, index. 118 pages. ISBN: 978-0-88146-207-4 $16]

Historian and dedicated student of the Atlanta Campaign Philip Secrist, who passed away in 2008, first published his brief history of the May 1864 Battle of Resaca back in 1998. In spring 2010, it was reissued by Mercer University Press in a very reasonably priced paperback format. It appears to be a straight reprint, with the qualification that the four color maps that appeared in the hardcover first edition are reproduced in black and white.

Secrist's account of the battle itself (Part I of his book) was originally published in article form for the Atlanta Historical Society Journal (Spring 1978 issue). At 60 pages, interspersed with full page illustrations, it is a concise overview of the fighting on May 14 and 15, but it is well written and informative. The action is recounted at mostly division scale with more detailed discussions presented on occasion, such as that of the attack against the exposed salient occupied by the Cherokee Artillery battery on the 15th. The writing is justifiably critical of William T. Sherman's cautious handling of the battle, but perhaps a bit too certain that an all out frontal assault on the 15th would have completely overthrown the Confederate defenses.

The book's thirteen maps, ranging from original author line drawings over modern topographical maps to historical reproductions, are especially helpful in visualizing the terrain, but they also trace the opposing lines as a whole and mark the location of the ground over which divisional assaults occurred. Also integrated into the text is a series of photographs from the famous set of battlefield images of the Atlanta Campaign shot by George Barnard. They greatly enhance our knowledge of the historical lay of the land, and remind us of the value of systematic photographic studies of Civil War battlefields in the immediate aftermath of the fighting.

Part II is a discussion of discoveries on the battlefield by modern relic hunters. It also summarizes the results of the 1960 archaeological study that preceded the construction of I-75. The author, a relic hunter himself, was of the opinion that the field work did not measurably enhance the findings of previous efforts, and called for the pairing of professionals with knowledgeable avocational relic hunters armed with metal detectors, a collaboration that has proven useful in modern battlefield archaeology*.

With the literature's continued rather baffling absence of book length studies of the battles of the Atlanta Campaign, Philip Secrist's The Battle of Resaca remains a useful summary as well as a unique look at the battlefield itself. It is a welcome reissue, well worth owning.

* - See Archaeological Perspectives on the American Civil War (Univ. Press of Florida, 2003) and Huts and History: The Historical Archaeology of Military Encampment During the American Civil War (UP of Florida, 2006)

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