When Sherman Marched North from the Sea: Resistance on the Confederate Home Front

When Sherman Marched North from the Sea: Resistance on the Confederate Home Front

When Sherman Marched North from the Sea: Resistance on the Confederate Home Front

When Sherman Marched North from the Sea: Resistance on the Confederate Home Front

Synopsis

Home front and battle front merged in 1865 when General William T. Sherman occupied Savannah and then marched his armies north through the Carolinas. Although much has been written about the military aspects of Sherman's March, Jacqueline Campbell reveals a more complex story. Integrating evidence from Northern soldiers and from Southern civilians, black and white, male and female, Campbell demonstrates the importance of culture for determining the limits of war and how it is fought.

Sherman's March was an invasion of both geographical and psychological space. The Union army viewed the Southern landscape as military terrain. But when they brought war into Southern households, Northern soldiers were frequently astounded by the fierceness with which many white Southern women defended their homes. Campbell argues that in the household-centered South, Confederate women saw both ideological and material reasons to resist. While some Northern soldiers lauded this bravery, others regarded such behavior as inappropriate and unwomanly.

Campbell also investigates the complexities behind African Americans' decisions either to stay on the plantation or to flee with Union troops. Black Southerners' delight at the coming of the army of "emancipation" often turned to terror as Yankees plundered their homes and assaulted black women.

Ultimately, When Sherman Marched North from the Sea calls into question postwar rhetoric that represented the heroic defense of the South as a male prerogative and praised Confederate women for their "feminine" qualities of sentimentality, patience, and endurance. Campbell suggests that political considerations underlie this interpretation--that Yankee depredations seemed more outrageous when portrayed as an attack on defenseless women and children. Campbell convincingly restores these women to their role as vital players in the fight for a Confederate nation, as models of self-assertion rather than passive self-sacrifice.

Excerpt

In February 1865 a Confederate officer learned that William T. Sherman's soldiers were an imminent threat to his South Carolina family. He warned his mother and sisters that they were likely to lose all their material possessions, yet his words expressed no concern over their physical safety. in fact, he advised his female kin that, “should any scoundrel intrude or go rummaging round the place, don't hesitate to shoot.” Ten days later, hearing that his family had survived the ordeal, he thanked God for having provided him with “such a brave mother & Sisters,” and he renewed his own commitment to the Confederate cause. “With such a spirit emanating from you,” he wrote, “how could we [soldiers] do else but perform our duty noble and manfully.” At the same time a Union officer surveyed the charred remains of Columbia, the South Carolina capital, and openly wept at the distress of homeless women and children. An ex-slave who had decided to remain on her South Carolina plantation, rather than flee with the Union army, also remembered that month with bitterness. All she had to thank the Yankees for was “a hungry belly and freedom.”

These three commentaries on the nature of Sherman's campaign through the Confederate heartland convey a very different picture from traditional accounts of a military strategy that destroyed both the war resources and the morale of the Southern people. But by integrating evidence from soldiers and civilians, black and white, at a moment when home front and battlefront merged, Sherman's March becomes a far more complex story—one that illuminates the importance of culture for determining the limits of war and how it is fought. If we understand war as culturally sanctioned violence, we can place a military campaign in a much broader social context, one that takes into account a wider array of behavioral patterns. These patterns include racial attitudes, gender ideology, and perceptions of the military as a cultural entity.

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