The destruction of Atlanta is an iconic moment in American history — it was the centerpiece of Gone with the Wind. But though the epic sieges of Leningrad, Stalingrad, and Berlin have all been explored in bestselling books, the one great American example has been treated only cursorily in more general histories. Marc Wortman remedies that conspicuous absence in grand fashion with The Bonfire, an absorbing narrative history told through the points of view of key participants both Confederate and Union.
The Bonfire reveals an Atlanta of unexpected paradoxes: a new mercantile city dependent on the primitive institution of slavery; governed by a pro-Union mayor, James Calhoun, whose cousin was a famous defender of the South. When he surrendered the city to General Sherman after forty-four terrible days, Calhoun was accompanied by Bob Yancey, a black slave likely the son of Union advocate Daniel Webster. Atlanta was both the last of the medieval city sieges and the first modern urban devastation. From its ashes, a new South would arise.