Review of Day by Day Through the Civil War in Georgia, Michael K. Shaffer

18 Oct

(This review originally appeared in the Spring, 2022 edition of Muscogiana, the journal of the Muscogee County, Georgia Geneaological Society. It is published here in edited form.)

The Civil War was a four-year long (1,630 days to be exact), upheaval of almost every aspect of life in the American South. In few places were the effects of the conflict felt more directly than in the state of Georgia. Scene of pivotal battles such as the fighting for Atlanta, lesser-known but regionally-significant clashes such as the Battle of Columbus, and a host of other noteworthy events ranging from Sherman’s March to the capture of Jefferson Davis, Georgia played an important role in the course of this turning point in American history. All the while, its citizenry experienced a range of trials, tribulations, and disruption we are still struggling to grasp. Here with a unique and detailed attempt to chronicle all of the major military, political, and social events which unfolded in the Peach State during the war is historian Michael K. Shaffer with Day by Day Through the Civil War in Georgia.

A noted author of multiple books and an instructor at both Kennesaw State University and Emory University, Shaffer brings unquestioned credentials to the singular task he has undertaken. The handsome hardcover book is published by Mercer University Press, an outfit with a track record of producing high-quality scholarly books on Georgia history. But where does his monumental effort to document every single day of the Civil War in Georgia fit within a robust historiographical record on the subject, and what is its ultimate value to those with an interest in the era of its focus?

Shaffer proclaims his book to be first of its kind, both for its format and for its exclusive reliance on primary sources. It should be noted that the text is preceded by a rich selection of images of key people and places of the war in Georgia which includes maps, flags, ships, and portraits that in and of itself is a valuable reference source compilation, along with several appendices consisting of reproductions of important documents pertaining to the war in Georgia, ranging from the state’s secession ordinance and Confederate vice-president Alexander Stephens infamous “cornerstone” speech to important military orders. As for the day by day listing of events itself which is the heart of the book, it is comprised of over 1,600 short entries focusing overwhelmingly on major military and political actions occurring within the state. All are thoroughly documented, citing the original source they came from, such as newspapers, diaries, and official records. For reasons not entirely clear, the monthly stages of the moon are also given alongside the text.

Day by Day in Georgia is a wealth of information on some of the largest military campaigns and headline political decisions of the war in the state, with scores of interesting tidbits of information on lesser-known events included. It is, however, inherently random. Any attempt to make a single entry for every day cannot possibly cover every aspect of the life in the state at any particular time or give adequate coverage to every community. The author, understandably, had to make choices as to what was the most important thing to discuss for his entry on that individual day. It goes without saying that this is probably not a book for casual readers of Civil War history, and likely not something that readers of every region of the state looking for local information will find compelling. It is, however, an amazing compilation and an unparalleled reference resource that is destined to become a standard in every library in the state and beyond, and promises to be of immense value to researchers delving into several areas of Georgia’s Civil War experience (at least the most written-about aspects of its military and political record) for many years to come.

JMB

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