Trudeau, a prize-winning Civil War historian (Gettysburg), addresses William T. Shermana's "march to the sea" in the autumn of 1864. Shermana's inclusion of civilian and commercial property on the list of military objectives was not a harbinger of total war, says Trudeau. Rather, its purpose was to demonstrate to the Confederacy that there was no place in the South safe from Union troops. The actual levels of destruction and pillage were limited even by Civil War standards, Trudeau says; they only seemed shocking to Georgians previously spared "a home invasion on a grand scale." Confederate resistance was limited as well. Trudeau praises Shermana's generalship, always better at operational than tactical levels. He presents the inner dynamics of one of the finest armies the U.S. has ever fielded: veteran troops from Massachusetts to Minnesota, under proven officers, consistently able to make the difficult seem routine. And Trudeau acknowledges the often-overlooked contributions of the slaves who provided their liberators invaluable information and labor. The march to the sea was in many ways "the day of jubilo," and in Trudeau it has found its Xenophon. 16 pages of b&w photos, 36 maps. (Aug.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
These two studies perfectly complement each other. Trudeau (former executive producer, NPR: Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage) has written a sprawling and mesmerizing account of "the March" that reminds the reader that General Sherman had no intention of waging a "total war" against Confederate Georgia but instead hoped to make any continuance of the rebellion within its borders so unpalatable to its populace that the state government would regard a return to the Union as the lesser of two evils. Sherman's ultimate decision to selectively destroy civilian property stemmed from his belief that the South bore collective responsibility for its treasonous actions and his determination to show Georgians that neither their property nor their livelihoods could be protected by Confederate president Jefferson Davis or his Richmond authorities. The greatest blot on Sherman's record during the March centered on his treatment of the newly freed bondsmen, whom he denounced as impedimenta. As a result, Sherman, known for his racist views, had no compunction about abandoning these runaways at every opportunity. Trudeau concludes that even if the rebels were not hampered by outmoded defensive schemes and dithering regional commanders in Georgia, they could not have stopped Sherman, whose men were too experienced to be denied.Caudill and Ashdown (both journalism & electronic media, Univ. of Tennessee; coauthors, The Myth of Nathan Bedford Forrest) take a different approach, examining the myths surrounding Sherman and his March (both books capitalize the word), myths going back to the time of the March itself. The authors see the March as great drama, with Sherman providentially cast asits leader, regardless of whether future generations accepted that script. As the pageant migrated from the headlines to literature, film, and theater, popular culture embraced the story, thus leading to its universal acceptance in American society. Even so, Caudill and Ashdown contend, readers debating the significance of Sherman's extraordinary undertaking can grudgingly acknowledge opposing interpretations. In the end, the authors solicit our assent that the act of summoning forth Sherman's memory has become tantamount to invoking one's own values: The March, like the Confederate flag, "has become shorthand for a complex set of values, perspectives, and traditions." Both major contributions to Civil War historiography, these two books cannot be overlooked. Recommended for all history collections-Civil War, social, or intellectual-in all libraries.
John Carver Edwards
A balanced account of the famous-or infamous, depending on your sympathies-campaign that effectively ended the Civil War in the Deep South. As former NPR executive producer Trudeau (Gettysburg, 2002, etc.) notes, William Tecumseh Sherman's March to the Sea was not without its uneventful stretches; the diary entries of many of the soldiers, he grumbles, can be summarized with the phrase, "Nothing of interest to report." Sadly, that applies to stretches of this book, which reports nearly every datum about the 1864 campaign, interesting or not, while skimping a touch on big-picture interpretations of what the campaign meant in the larger context of the Civil War. Early on, Trudeau promises psychodrama by observing that Sherman was grieving the loss of a son who died the year before. Of course, in that time of carnage, death was everywhere, and Trudeau does not pursue the question of how Sherman handled his sorrow. What he does do-and what will make this book controversial, at least among certain circles-is to hazard that the March to the Sea has been compressed in the popular memory as a frenzy of raiding and burning, whereas in reality the campaign was both longer and less brutal than that. Trudeau reckons, drawing on contemporary statisticians, that Sherman, "at his thoughtful, self-confident best" at the start of the march, was more restrained than he might have been, "blaming southerners for their complicity and deeming himself powerless in the random chance destructiveness of the storm he had unleashed." Just so, rebel military resistance was somewhat tougher than the standard texts suggest, while the vaunted guerrilla resistance to Sherman's foraging troops was less stiff and surelyless organized. Sherman's successful raid across southeastern Georgia served him well personally, however. Grant may have had doubts about the wisdom of sending an army so far from its base, but he esteemed Sherman highly thereafter. Civil War enthusiasts will appreciate Trudeau's careful attention to detail, while general readers may wish for a more vivid, cut-to-the-chase version of events. Agent: Raphael Sagalyn/The Sagalyn Agency