Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Marching with Sherman by Mark H. Dunkelman

Sherman's March to the Sea
Marching with Sherman: Through Georgia and the Carolinas with the 154th New York is a daily chronicle of events that follows the exploits of the 154th New York Regiment from Atlanta through Georgia and the Carolinas.  The author draws on regimental histories, diaries, and letters of Union soldiers; accounts of southern women collected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy; and interviews of ex-slaves conducted by employees of the Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration.  Dunkelman's efforts produced a compelling history of the soldiers' hardships and the ravages inflicted on southerners.

The men of the 154th New York were recruited from Cattaraugus and Chautaugua counties along the southwestern border with Pennsylvania. The boys came from small towns and farms and had more in common with their Confederate counterparts than the Union recruits from New York City and Irish immigrants.
The book is divided into five sections tracing the Union path of destruction:  Atlanta to Milledgeville, Milledgeville to Savannah, Savannah to Blackville, Blackville to Cheraw, and Cheraw to Goldsboro.  The route is nicely illustrated by George Skoch's maps. The book points out that while "The March to the Sea" gets the headlines, the campaign against South Carolina was even crueler.
Burning of McPhersonville
The book, which is the third one by the author in the series Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War, offers an array of stories illustrating the bravery and cunning of the "Steel Magnolias"  as they saved homes from destruction, concealed food, and protected family possessions.  The stories have familiar themes of vile bummers stealing food and killing farm animals, Union soldiers protecting the homes of fellow Masons, and families surviving on pieces of corn dropped by the foragers.  Dunkelman questions whether these stories are part of shared experiences or urban legends.   Another interesting aspect is the absence of information from the letters and diaries of the soldiers about the raids. They cite the burning cities and trauma inflicted on the land and its citizens, but don't provide details of their activities in this destruction.  This may be due to a lack of involvement by the 154th or embarrassment about what they did.  However, in the years following the war, the veterans of the regiment were proud of their participation in the historic march.
Dunkelman's history continues to the present day as he details how Southern anger increased to hatred of Sherman's Union invaders.  While Sherman's march was praised in the North and overseas, anti-Yankee feelings grew in the South.  Loathing of Sherman increased after the war as Southerners were able to fully comprehend the extent of the damage he had caused.  This revulsion was certainly aided by reconstruction.
The author concludes with his experiences in retracing his ancestor's path through the South.  The chapter, appropriately titled "Don't Bring Any Matches!" reveals gracious Southerners who wanted to share their family history and a minority of "neo-Confederates" who were unhappy about the author's presence in their community.
Marching with Sherman provides unique insights into the war on Southern civilians and offers perspectives from all who were affected by the historic march.
We rate Marching with Sherman  (3 out of 4 stars).

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