- The Washington Times - Friday, December 5, 2003

WHEN SHERMAN MARCHED NORTH FROM THE SEA: RESISTANCE ON THE CONFEDERATE HOME FRONT

By Jacqueline Glass Campbell

The University of North Carolina Press. 192 pages. Illus. $27.50.

This latest book in the Civil War America series, edited by Gary W. Gallagher, is unusual and valuable. Most accounts of Gen. William T. Sherman’s campaign after capturing Atlanta in the autumn of 1864 have described his march southeast to Savannah and the sea. Author Jacqueline Glass Campbell focuses on Sherman’s march northward from Savannah through the Carolinas until, late in April 1865, days after Gen. Robert E. Lee had surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox in Virginia, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston finally surrendered his army to Sherman after being defeated at Bentonville, N.C.

The author, an assistant professor of history at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, is more a feminist historian than a military one, and she wants her readers to look beyond the armies, which were all male, to the thoughts and deeds of Southern women — and also to look at “gender boundaries” and “gendered rhetoric.”

Unfortunately, in this reviewer’s view, when she wanders into descriptions of “a separate sphere ideology” she begins to put humans and human activities into categories that may sound scientific but are not. Our author also might have produced a more readable book if she had been more tentative in her analysis and had refrained from looking for “political logic” and “depoliticization of women’s wartime roles” in the wartime letters of Southern women.

Sociologists have long been fond of such word games — historians too, as professor Campbell herself says, often choose “a language so heavy with theoretical jargon that it speaks only to other academics.”

Yet she has done just that in places.

That said, Miss Campbell deserves praise for drawing on a wide range of both unpublished primary sources and published works. Sherman’s campaign is vivid in this book, as seen through the eyes of his soldiers and through the eyes of Southern women who watched “the miscreant behavior of the Yankees.”

As the author says, black distrust of the Union soldiers was not unwarranted. Fleeing slaves were an encumbrance to Sherman’s army, and he made clear to them that they should stay, until the war ended, on the plantations where they had lived in bondage. In the journals and letters Miss Campbell quotes, a number of Union soldiers sound almost as racist as any white Carolinian of the time.

Sherman reached Savannah in December 1864, and one of history’s best-known Christmas presents is his Dec. 22 message offering the city to President Lincoln. Unlike Atlanta earlier, Savannah did not burn, and Union ships soon brought badly needed food supplies.

Sherman reported to his superior, Grant, that his troops behaved well in Savannah and that the city people seemed content. As Miss Campbell brings out, the reactions of Southern women varied. Some young women were captivated by the Northerners; some women were apathetic or just curious; and others were decidedly hostile.

In January, Sherman marched northward from Savannah. Conditions were bad — torrential rains and much resulting mud — but he had good maps. He kept his plans secret, but he was aiming for Columbia, the capital of South Carolina. As he would write later in his memoirs, his men thought South Carolina was the cause of all their troubles. They aimed to make the state suffer. It had, of course, been the first state to secede from the Union, in December 1860, but long before that, it had threatened disunion, notably in its 1833 Ordinance of Nullification.

Campbell defines the dilemmas faced by white Carolinian families once they knew Sherman was on his way. Should they stay or flee — and where could they go? There was no good answer. They were losing power over their slaves, and when the slaves saw their masters begin to suffer, their reactions “spanned a spectrum from delight to ambivalence and sometimes compassion.”

As earlier in Georgia, there were many cases of mistreatment of blacks by Union soldiers and an untold number of assaults by them on black women. Many blacks nevertheless continued to view the soldiers as their deliverers.

In many white households, husbands had gone off to the war and wives were in charge. Miss Campbell describes the bravery of many such women, who most often had no weapon to use on the invaders except “their own venomous tongues.”

As the author says, we cannot know whether Northern women would have reacted in a similar way to Confederate invaders, but certainly, although she does not say so, there are few cases in American and European history of a class of unarmed women standing up so staunchly to an invader.

In February 1865, Columbia was taken and a third of the city burned. Part of this was because of Northern incendiaries; part because of Confederate carelessness. Beyond the fire came what the author calls a saturnalia, with soldiers breaking into homes and producing a night of terror.

Some Union officers thought the scene was sickening, yet many thought that the rebels had basically brought it on themselves. Even then, though, amid much misery, many women in Columbia called on their fighting men to stick to their posts and seek vengeance.

Professor Campbell writes that as Sherman and his troops continued on into North Carolina, they were in good health and excellent spirits, although, as Sherman wrote to his wife, many had smoke-black faces and were in rags. The war was nearing its end, and many North Carolinians were deserting.

Nevertheless, the Confederate forces made two last desperate, and unsuccessful, efforts to stop Sherman. Johnston’s bold efforts at Bentonville raised his troops’ morale and made Sherman’s men think they still faced a formidable enemy.

Johnston soon surrendered, but only after Lee’s surrender in Virginia.

The author tells us much about the complexity of feelings in the wake of surrender. In North Carolina, many felt relief; in South Carolina for some time, Northern travelers found much “virulent animosity.”

All in all, she writes, Southern memories began to obscure individual strengths and frailties and to build an image of a united white Confederacy whose honorable mission to protect a way of life had been put down by brute force.

This is a short book, but it gives us very much. It draws on and synthesizes the accounts of dozens of civilians and soldiers from both North and South. One hopes the author may, sometime in the future, decide to go back over the same sad ground and produce a more comprehensive work while redoubling her efforts to refrain from the theoretical jargon she knows is hard on general readers.

Peter Bridges, a former U.S. ambassador to Somalia, is the author most recently of “Pen of Fire: John Moncure Daniel.” He lives in Northern Virginia.


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