By Colin Woodward
Things have been busy for me since last December, when our family of two became a family of three. Since then, it’s been hard to get as much reading done as I would like. While reorganizing my study and living room, I decided to put all my unread books on one bookcase. The amount of volumes on it was daunting, especially when I considered getting through something as monster-sized as Lacy Ford’s tome about antebellum slavery, Deliver Us from Evil. When you work 9-6, M-F, it’s tough to put a dent in your reading backlog.
Thankfully, on my shelves I had unread titles like Jacqueline Campbell’s When Sherman Marched North from the Sea. I had consulted the book through the writing of my dissertation and during the work on my book manuscript. Campbell’s monograph is a well written and researched book. And for me, right now, blessedly brief. A graduate student in his/her first year could read it in one sitting. I didn’t. But finishing it gave me a nice feeling of accomplishment.
Campbell argues that Sherman’s march from Savannah to North Carolina did not kill the Confederacy’s will to resist (and by Confederates, she mostly means women). Instead, Sherman’s destructive campaign left Rebels on the homefront with feelings of bitterness toward the Union and a desire for revenge. Women wrote to their soldier husbands and brothers demanding that they fight to the last man. A Duke graduate who hails from Scotland, Campbell is one of the historians of the Gary Gallagher school, who believes the Confederacy died from battlefield defeats, not a lack of will. Included in this school are scholars such as Aaron Sheehan-Dean (who studied under Gallagher) and William Blair. For me, the “lack of will” argument essentially becomes a “chicken and egg” debate, with the line between “external” and “internal” forces becoming blurred. However, I agree that had fighting never broken out in 1861, the Confederacy would have lasted much longer than four years.
Campbell also shows how Sherman’s march affected African Americans in the Deep South. Union troops were not kind to civilians, especially black women, who were victims of sexual violence that northerners did not inflict on whites. Many slaves fled to Sherman’s lines, even though general himself would have preferred they stay at home. But Campbell shows why slaves had good reason not to follow the Yankees. Northern units were not necessarily interested in the welfare of black people. Following the Yankees north could be uncertain at best and dangerous at worst. Slaves also had ties to their homes and communities that precluded them fleeing with Sherman’s men. African Americans hated slavery, but they did not necessarily like northern soldiers, who were destroying the South they had known their whole lives.
Her book spares few details about the fury Sherman’s men unleashed, but Campbell is also fair to the Yankees. The destruction of Columbia, she shows, was a bizarre carnival of plunder and arson on the one hand and gaiety on the other, with southern women and men often fraternizing in ways not in keeping with Lost Cause mythology. One Yankee, she notes, met a woman whom he fell in love with and married after the war. Obviously, not all Confederate women despised the northerners they met. And many Union men fell for southern belles.
Sherman marched into North Carolina eventually, where he battled his old foe Joe Johnston, who surrendered only a few weeks after Lee did. As Campbell shows, Confederate resistance ended with the defeat of its armies, not demoralization caused by Yankee depredations.
Professor Campbell teaches in South Carolina, where she is working on a book on occupied New Orleans. I look forward to reading it.
Colin Woodward is a historian and archivist. He is the author of Marching Masters, Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army during the Civil War (University of Virginia Press, 2014). He is writing a second book on Johnny Cash.