Season’s Readings: New local books should find place under tree
by Joe Kirby
December 14, 2013 11:56 PM | 1276 views | 0 0 comments | 38 38 recommendations | email to a friend | print
If you’re shopping for a “reader” this holiday season with an interest in history, don’t overlook these books by local authors or on local topics that have come out in recent months. …

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The campus of Kennesaw State University has an unbelievable bustle these days to those who remember it from earlier days.

KSU is marking its 50th anniversary by, among other things, the publication of “Kennesaw State University: The First Fifty Years, 1963-2013” by history professor Dr. Tom Scott of Marietta, who retired in 2011 after 43 years on its faculty.

As many readers know, the future college was plunked down in a north Cobb cornfield as part of a political compromise years before anyone knew the busiest interstate in the country would one day run right past its front door. Scott’s book includes priceless photos from its earliest days and reminiscences from many of its most tenured current and former leaders.

Retired history Professor J.B. Tate, for example, recalled for Scott that when once asked how many students he had flunked the previous quarter, he answered, “As many as wanted to,” or, as Scott puts it, “as many as were unwilling to attend class regularly or do the readings necessary for success.”

KSU is now on the cusp of a new era, about to start a football program and absorb what is now Southern Polytechnic State University. Whoever writes the history of its second 50 years will have huge shoes to fill.

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The sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain is just over the horizon next June, and one of the most readable and thoroughly researched retellings of that story is “Kennesaw Mountain: Sherman, Johnston and the Atlanta Campaign,” (The University of North Carolina Press) which came out this summer.

Author Earl Hess is a history professor at Lincoln Memorial University and briefly taught at the University of Georgia.

“The significance of the ground enclosed within Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park cannot be overstated,” he writes in his introduction. “It contains the most important collection of surviving Civil War earthworks in the Western Theater, remnants that are as important as those in the best battlefield parks of the Eastern Theater.”

Hess’ book is an almost regiment-by-regiment account of the two armies’ movements, emotions and casualties during the days in question and often makes for moving reading. It will be quite some time — if ever — before another book this thorough about this battle comes along.

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The subject of KSU Professor Dr. Brian Wills’ latest biography, “Confederate General William Dorsey Pender: The Hope of Glory” (LSU Press) details the life of one of Lee’s lesser-known “lieutenants.” Wills, who heads the Center for the Study of the Civil War Era at KSU, has previously written highly-regarded biographies of two better-known generals of that war, the South’s notorious Nathan Bedford Forrest and the North’s George H. Thomas, “The Rock of Chickamauga.”

Pender might ultimately have gained the stature of Forrest and Thomas, had he survived the war. But his fondness for leading from near the front led to wounds in nearly every battle. He played a key role in the Confederates’ victorious first day at Gettysburg, but suffered a serious leg wound late in the afternoon after being hit by a shell. He survived a nightmarish ride back to Virginia in a springless ambulance but died of complications soon after.

Wills benefits from the fact that Pender’s voluminous correspondence with his wife survives, and uses those letters effectively to trace the course of the couple’s relationship and the young general’s ambitions.

His death and those of so many other promising young officers by that point in the war proved virtually impossible for Lee to overcome and contributed to that army’s eventual defeat.

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Smyrna, as most readers know, totally trans-formed its downtown over the course of the past two decades. That story, and many others about the city’s long history, are told in “A Brief History of Smyrna Georgia” by William Marchione Ph.D.

Published by The History Press of Charleston, S.C., it packs more than 150 years of history into its 150 pages, beginning the city’s story in the pre-history days when it was home to Cherokee Indians. Unlike many such community-history books aimed at a general readership, it includes a bibliography six pages long. But scholarship is what one would expect from Smyrna resident Marchione, a retired history professor who earned his doctoral degree at Boston College and was a longtime member of the Boston Landmarks Commission.

An entertaining cast of characters has called Smyrna “home” through the years or made their mark while passing through on the way to somewhere else, and Marchione has all their stories — from W.T. Sherman to early sanitarium operator Dr. James Brawner to Lorena Pace Pruitt (Georgia’s first female mayor, back in 1945-48) to actress Julia Roberts to longtime current mayor Max Bacon.

If you want to learn more about this history of “The Jonquil City,” this is a good place to start.

Joe Kirby is editorial page editor of the Marietta Daily Journal and author of four books on local history, including “The Lockheed Plant” and “Marietta: Then & Now.”

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