When Sherman Marched North from the Sea: Resistance on the Confederate Home Frontby Jacqueline Glass Campbell
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,
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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 interpretationthat 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. Home front and battle front merged in 1865 when General William T. Sherman occupied Savannah and then marched his armies north through the Carolinas. When Union soldiers brought war into Southern households, Northern soldiers were frequently astounded by the fierceness with which many white Southern women defended their homes. 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.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. >
American Historical Review
"A worthy addition to the burgeoning literature focusing on the social and cultural aspects of the Civil War. Concise yet thoroughly researched, it contributes fresh, thought-provoking insights into a long-neglected area of study: the interaction between General William T. Sherman's soldiers and southern civilians, black and white, male and female, during his march through the Carolinas."
The South Carolina Historical Magazine
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When Sherman Marched North from the SeaResistance on the Confederate Home Front
By Jacqueline Glass Campbell
The University of North Carolina PressCopyright © 2003 The University of North Carolina Press
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSavannah Has Gone Up the Spout
On December 22, 1864, William T. Sherman offered President Abraham Lincoln a special Christmas gift, namely the city of Savannah. When the Yankee press published the news, it made for a particularly joyous holiday in the North and earned Sherman the title of the "Military Santa Claus." The fact that Sherman offered such a gift to the Union president, neatly tied up and conveyable, suggests a tidy transfer of a city from Confederate to Union hands. This picture is underscored by the fact that Confederate troops under General William J. Hardee had evacuated during the night, and Mayor Richard Arnold had surrendered the city. The March to the Sea was over, and the Union soldiers felt a growing confidence in their ability to end the war. An officer from New Hampshire wrote to his sister of the "satisfaction in being with a victorious army." Unlike his experience in the Army of the Potomac, where it was "always defeat, except at Gettysburg," under Sherman's command, victory was the norm.
On the surface, the Georgia campaign had ended in an easy victory, and the orderly interaction between citizens and the Union army in Savannah tends to support this image of a "subjugated" people in Georgia. A closer examination of the month-long hiatus of Sherman's troops between their glorious march through Georgia and their ongoing campaign through the Carolinas reveals other aspects of the invasion-the complacent mood of the soldiers, the difficulties of families living on the outskirts of the city, who were subjected to repeated raids by foraging troops, and the resentments and acts of resistance of civilians who felt both anger and humiliation at the Federal occupation.
For many Union soldiers, the Georgia campaign had seemed "easy, comfortable and jolly." A Captain Divine described it as a "gay old campaign." In fact, his regiment had enjoyed "the best health they have since leaving the States." Little wonder that the troops felt so satisfied, for the countryside had provided them with a rich abundance of food. Sherman was well aware that his men "like[d] pigs, sheep, chickens, calves and Sweet potatoes better than Rations." He had thoroughly studied the Georgia census and correctly predicted that there was little chance his men would starve. An Iowan soldier told his cousin that he "had never lived better." He had fed on everything the general had promised, as well as "Geese, Turkeys, Honey, Molasses, Shugar [sic]." A New York private thought there had never been an army "that lived as well as Gen. Sherman's on his last campaign." Soldiers were quick to lay their hands on all the bounty of the Georgia countryside. They had little need of "Uncle Samuel's rations," which they regarded "with disdain." This greatly eased Chief Commissary Officer George Balloch's job. He had been "worn out" when he left Atlanta but had little to do on the march across Georgia. "The troops gathered from the country what supplies we did not bring with us and the novelties that presented themselves continually gave a healthy excitement to the journey so that the whole thing looked more like an old fashioned muster than the march of an invading army." His health was now excellent, he told his wife, "and I feel quite like a man again." So much food had been available that one soldier found the idea of starving the South utterly ridiculous.
Foraging for food and valuables had, in fact, become so easy that a sense of monotony was setting in. While main columns took everything by the roadside, others were looking for distractions and becoming expert at discovering hidden items. By early December one soldier noted a change in the behavior of Sherman's troops. "It is becoming apparent that unprincipled men are taking advantage of the license given to them to forage, and are pillaging," he wrote in his diary. "Almost an endless variety of articles have been exhumed. Some are bringing away clothing, others blankets, others fine dishes, silver spoons, etc. One man has just passed us dressed as a lady, only his toilet was rather crudely made."
For the white citizens of Georgia, of course, Sherman's March had seemed far from agreeable but was instead a "bitter quaff." Union soldiers who took pride in discovering hidden caches no doubt conveyed a sense that they were able to outsmart as well as overpower Southerners. Furthermore, when they engaged in the not uncommon ritual of parading around in clothes wrested from a Southern lady's wardrobe, they only intensified her humiliation and resentment. "Those of us who have suffered," wrote the editor of the Georgia Countryman, "can hardly be expected to love our tormentors, and persecutors, and we can hardly be expected to look with much favor upon anything that has the remotest resemblance to reunion with the Yankees." This resentment masked feelings of dishonor that Georgians had allowed Sherman to pass through "comparatively uninjured... . This should mantle with the blush of shame the cheek of every Georgian, and every Confederate.... We, for one, feel deeply mortified-humbled, chagrined-even degraded."
Georgia had, in fact, received far more of a psychological blow than material damage at the hands of Sherman. In the capital of Milledgeville, for example, only two plantation residences and two private city homes were destroyed. Soldiers did, however, ridicule Southerners by holding a mock session of the legislature in the abandoned statehouse and destroying books and papers. In the absence of any government officials, who had all fled before Sherman's forces, a young girl of the town felt her "cheeks glow with shame."
Just as Northern soldiers were prone to trivialize their transgressions, Southerners tended to exaggerate them. Recent scholarship suggests that the amount of destruction of private property in Georgia fell far short of what was popularly believed. Furthermore, in the countryside inhabitants also had to contend with Confederate cavalry under the command of Major General Joseph Wheeler. A resident of Griffin complained to Confederate president Jefferson Davis that Wheeler's cavalry were "burning up all the corn and fodder" and carrying off "mules and horses." Unless some speedy action was taken, he warned, citizens who had been loyal to the Confederacy "will not care one cent which army is victorious in Georgia." In a letter to the Countryman, a Georgia woman confirmed that the people were suffering from both the "depredations" of Yankees and the "shameful" behavior of Wheeler's men. "While the enemy were burning and destroying property on one side ... they [Wheeler's men] were stealing horses and mules on the other."
The limits of war depended to a great extent on geography. The apparent order in Savannah was in direct contrast to the confusion in the countryside. A correspondent from the New York Herald noted the difference in behavior. "While marching through the country, where military restraint cannot control all, excesses may be committed; but where military influence is concentrated, it is impossible for them to go unpunished." Civilians also understood this distinction. A refugee from the city told her sister that although she had heard property was respected in Savannah, the surrounding countryside was "devastated." A Savannah woman reported that although women in the city were not molested, "in the country of course it was different."
In Liberty County, surrounding the city of Savannah, residents were subjected to the repeated raids by soldiers stationed in the town. An Iowan soldier told his cousin that he had "a very pleasant time" on just such a five-day foraging excursion. The experiences of Georgians who lived in an area that one historian has described as "no-man's land" were an exception to the normal rule of foraging on Sherman's campaign. Yet they also represent what was typical in confrontations between Union soldiers and Southern civilians-namely, that Southern women frequently faced the enemy alone.
When white men of the South went off, eager to display their manhood on the battlefield, Confederate women celebrated their bravery, prayed for them, sewed for them, and wept for them. When the home front became a battlefront, however, it was primarily women and children who faced enemy troops. Even the men who remained at home frequently hid, leaving their families without a male protector. When Joseph LeConte, a doctor from Columbia, South Carolina, heard of Sherman's advance across Georgia, he traveled to Liberty County to bring some female members of his family out of harm's way. After a long and arduous journey, the doctor arrived to find his sister's house subjected to recurrent Union raids. Although the house was ransacked, the women suffered no bodily harm. It was, in fact, the doctor whose life was considered to be in jeopardy, and he hid in the surrounding woods for a week. A Union colonel detailed one of the few occasions on which his regiment came across Confederate soldiers who had taken shelter behind a house. After driving the enemy away, Colonel Oscar Jackson found the house filled with women and children. "This was chivalry indeed-to hide behind women and children," was his sarcastic comment. Why would Southern men hide from an approaching enemy, leaving their female kinfolk to face the onslaught alone? The explanation for this behavior rests in the culture of the Old South and its variance from gender ideologies accepted in the North.
One could well make the argument that both Yankees and Confederates shared a belief that privileges of race and class offered certain women a guarantee of protection. Nevertheless, there were also conflicting interpretations of gender ideology. One of the keys to understanding why Confederate men felt that their women were well prepared and equipped to serve as defenders of the home is that they interpreted female strength differently from their Northern counterparts.
The industrializing and urbanizing areas of the North encouraged the development of a separate sphere ideology molded around the model of burgeoning middle-class families. Women assumed the role of moral guardian to provide stability and shelter for men involved in the increasingly hostile world of business and politics. As gender became an especially salient political division in the North, women's economic roles were obscured and they were assigned a superior moral strength, based on the belief that they were inherently less passionate than men. This designation may well have eased the minds of middle-class men as their wives left the confines of the home to pursue acts of benevolence and reform.
Southern ladies did not enjoy the same liberties of movement as their Northern counterparts. Although this was the result of practicalities as much as ideological tenets, such limited mobility has been interpreted as undermining the development of feminist consciousness. This argument, however, is based on a flawed model of Southern society. The enduring significance of the Southern household as the center of both production and reproduction delayed the full flowering of the separate sphere ideology. In the mid-nineteenth century Northern industrialization and urbanization shifted the political focus from personal influence to public institutions, highlighting the exclusion of women. But in the South, where race was the primary determinant of social and political power, and deference remained central to its exercise, women could function as virtuous and active citizens so long as they supported the existing system.
Both North and South placed great importance on women's outward display of submission to male authority. In the South, however, this was not based on a belief that women were inherently delicate creatures, but that they chose to restrain their inner strength for the benefit of social harmony and family honor. Consequently, women were not merely vicarious beneficiaries of male honor but could share in this concept and see their own roles as vital in the shaping of Confederate nationalism. Furthermore, it was permissible for white women to display passion and proficiency provided it was in support of the family.
In the antebellum period it was not unusual for white women of the South to be left alone on plantations or farms. A series of letters from a young New York woman who married a North Carolina planter described to her family the major differences between the lives of Northern and Southern women. She explained that even privileged plantation women worked "harder than any Northern farmer's wife." With a workday that began at dawn, she found herself "tired enough to sleep like a rock" by dusk. During her husband's frequent absences she ran his business and suspected that she could be a farmer herself. Even though she felt lonely when left "quite alone in the midst of the pine woods with the Negroes," she did not feel fear. On the basis of this understanding, Southern women frequently managed farms and plantations alone and saw themselves as responsible for the material and cultural survival of the family. When threatened by an invading army, they were more than able to respond with a passion worthy of both mothers and warriors.
During an invasion, women often recognized the advantage of having no men present. A Jasper County, Georgia, woman who lived with her mother, her niece, and two female refugees from Tennessee expressed relief that there was "no gentleman at our house" when Sherman's men passed. "He would have been no protection," she continued, and may have "been badly treated." A Virginia woman hoped that her father in Georgia would not consider staying at home. "Here, in this raid-visited section, the men are wiser," she wrote. "They all leave home, as a matter of course on the approach of the enemy-for long experience has taught them that women are the best defenders of themselves and their property under such circumstances." Some men actually feared the passion that might be revealed by their female kin's overzealous defense of the hearth. The editor of the Georgia Countryman advised his mother, who waited alone for the Yankees, to be "polite." In his own home, even though he was present, he begged his wife to stay in her room "lest she should betray her indignation, and give vent to her feelings, in words which might cause the hyenas to insult her."
Northerners, for their part, used such examples of Confederate women's behavior as propaganda, particularly to encourage women's patriotism on the Union side. In 1863 a New York woman addressed accusations that "women of the North have not equaled those of the South in patriotic interest, labors, and sacrifices."
Excerpted from When Sherman Marched North from the Sea by Jacqueline Glass Campbell Copyright © 2003 by The University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission.
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What People are Saying About This
[Campbell's] book is well worth reading for its insights on gender, race, and what she calls the cultural politics of war.H-Civil War
Short but illuminating. . . . Campbell's work not only fills a void in the phase of Sherman's advance often neglected but offers thought-provoking insights, leaving readers with the desire to know more about the impact of war on civilians of any era.Florida Historical Quarterly
Pursuing wide-ranging sources, relying heavily on rich primary material, presenting her case with solid strains of scholarship, the author has produced a work that will henceforth be a starting-point for any study of the climactic Union offensive in the Carolinas. Whether one is interested in the occupation of Savannah, the burning of Columbia, or the outrages committed every mile along the way, here is a fundamental guide to it all.Richmond Times-Dispatch
A different look at Sherman's march through the Carolinas in the closing weeks of the war. . . . [When Sherman Marched North from the Sea: Resistance on the Confederate Home Front] provides a more nuanced treatment than has been customary of the reception given Union troops by African Americans.NYMAS Review
This portrait of the interaction between Sherman's soldiers, Confederate civilians, and African Americans deepens and refines our understanding of an emotionally charged subject thickly encrusted with mythology. Both intellectually sophisticated and warmly human, it's a major work. Highly recommended.Mark Grimsley, Ohio State University
[Glass] writes easily and fluently, as much for the lay reader as for the professional historian.Kliatt
A well-written, well-argued, thought-provoking account of this less-remembered, but perhaps more important, part of Sherman's march across the South. Campbell convinces the reader that southern women did not react passively and that the presence of Union troops reinforced rather than destroyed their loyalty to the Confederacy. In accomplishing this goal, Campbell has deftly addressed and intertwined the fields of women's history, African-American history, military history, and public memory in a brief, accessible work.Civil War Book Review
Anyone interested in a well-researched account of Confederate women's responses to Sherman's march will find this study rewarding.American Historical Review
Offers new insights into civilian reaction to Sherman's campaign and in the process challenges the Lost Cause image of Confederate women.Civil War News
Meet the Author
Jacqueline Glass Campbell is assistant professor of history at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.
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