The March

The March

by E. L. Doctorow


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In 1864, Union general William Tecumseh Sherman marched his sixty thousand troops through Georgia to the sea, and then up into the Carolinas. The army fought off Confederate forces, demolished cities, and accumulated a borne-along population of freed blacks and white refugees until all that remained was the dangerous transient life of the dispossessed and the triumphant. In E. L. Doctorow’s hands the great march becomes a floating world, a nomadic consciousness, and an unforgettable reading experience with awesome relevance to our own times.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812976151
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/12/2006
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 214,273
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

E. L. Doctorow’s works of fiction include Welcome to Hard Times, The Book of Daniel, Ragtime, Loon Lake, World’s Fair, Billy Bathgate, The Waterworks, City of God, The March, Homer & Langley, and Andrew’s Brain. Among his honors are the National Book Award, three National Book Critics Circle awards, two PEN/Faulkner awards, and the presidentially conferred National Humanities Medal. In 2009 he was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, honoring a writer’s lifetime achievement in fiction, and in 2012 he won the PEN/ Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, given to an author whose “scale of achievement over a sustained career places him in the highest rank of American literature.” In 2013 the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded him the Gold Medal for Fiction. In 2014 he was honored with the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction.


Sag Harbor, New York, and New York, New York

Date of Birth:

January 6, 1931

Place of Birth:

New York, New York


A.B., Kenyon College, 1952; postgraduate study, Columbia University, 1952-53

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1 I At five in the morning someone banging on the door and shouting, her husband, John, leaping out of bed, grabbing his rifle, and Roscoe at the same time roused from the backhouse, his bare feet pounding: Mattie hurriedly pulled on her robe, her mind prepared for the alarm of war, but the heart stricken that it would finally have come, and down the stairs she flew to see through the open door in the lamplight, at the steps of the portico, the two horses, steam rising from their flanks, their heads lifting, their eyes wild, the driver a young darkie with rounded shoulders, showing stolid patience even in this, and the woman standing in her carriage no one but her aunt Letitia Pettibone of McDonough, her elderly face drawn in anguish, her hair a straggled mess, this woman of such fine grooming, this dowager who practically ruled the season in Atlanta standing up in the equipage like some hag of doom, which indeed she would prove to be. The carriage was piled with luggage and tied bundles, and as she stood some silver fell to the ground, knives and forks and a silver candelabra, catching in the clatter the few gleams of light from the torch that Roscoe held. Mattie, still tying her robe, ran down the steps thinking stupidly, as she later reflected, only of the embarrassment to this woman, whom to tell the truth she had respected more than loved, and picking up and pressing back upon her the heavy silver, as if this was not something Roscoe should be doing, nor her husband, John Jameson, neither. Letitia would not come down from her carriage, there was no time, she said. She was a badly frightened woman with no concern for her horses, as John saw and quickly ordered buckets to be brought around, as the woman cried, Get out, get out, take what you can and leave, and seemed to be roused to anger as they only stood listening, with some of the field hands appearing now around the side of the house with the first light, as if drawn into existence by it. And I know him! she cried. He has dined in my home. He has lived among us. He burns where he has ridden to lunch, he fires the city in whose clubs he once gave toasts, oh yes, someone of the educated class, or so we thought, though I never was impressed! No, I was never impressed, he was too spidery, too weak in his conversation, and badly composed in his dress, careless of his appearance, but for all that I thought quite civilized in having so little gift to dissemble or pretend what he did not feel. And what a bitter gall is in my throat for what I believed was a domesticated man with a clear love for wife and children, who is no more than a savage with not a drop of mercy in his cold heart. It was difficult to get the information from her, she ranted so. John did not try to, he began giving orders and ran back in the house. It was she, Mattie, who listened. Her aunt’s hysteria, formulated oddly in terms of the drawing room, moved her to her own urgent attention. She had for the moment even forgotten her boys upstairs. They are coming, Mattie, they are marching. It is an army of wild dogs led by this apostate, this hideous wretch, this devil who will drink your tea and bow before he takes everything from you. And now, her message delivered, her aunt slumped back in her seat, and gave her order to be off. Where Letitia Pettibone was going Mattie could not get the answer. Nor how much time there was, in fact, before the scourge arrived at her own door. Not that she doubted the woman. She looked into the sky slowly lightening to its gray beginnings of the day. She heard nothing but the cock crowing and, as she turned, suddenly angry, the whisperings of the slaves gathered now at the corner of the house. And then with the team away, the carriage rolling down the gravel path, Mattie turned, lifting the hem of her robe, and mounted the steps only to see that horrible child Pearl, insolent as ever, standing, arms folded, against the pillar as if the plantation was her own. john jameson was not unprepared. As far back as September, when the news had come that Hood had pulled out and the Union armies had Atlanta, he sat Mattie down and told her what had to be done. The rugs were rolled, the art was taken down from the walls, her needlepoint chairs—whatever she valued, he told her—her English fabrics, the china, even her family Bible: it was all to be packed up and carted to Milledgeville and thence put on the train to Savannah, where John’s cotton broker had agreed to store their things in his warehouse. Not my piano, she’d said, that will stay. It would rot in the dampness of that place. As you wish, John had said, having no feeling for music in any case. Mattie was dismayed to see her home so depleted. Through the bare windows the sun shone, lighting up the floors as if her life were going backward and she was again a young bride in a new-built unfurnished manse and with a somewhat frightening husband twice her age. She wondered how John knew the war would touch them directly. In fact he didn’t, but he was a man whose success gave him reason to suppose he was smarter than most people. He had a presence, with his voluminous chest and large head of wild white hair. Don’t argue with me, Mattie. They lost twenty or thirty thousand men taking that city. There’s hell to pay. You’re a general, with a President who’s a madman. Would you just sit there? So where? To Augusta? To Macon? And how will he ride, if not through these hills? And don’t expect that poor excuse for a Rebel army to do anything about it. But if I’m wrong, and I pray God I am, what will I have lost, tell me? Mattie was not allowed to disagree in such matters. She felt even more dismayed and said not a thing when, with the crops in, John arranged to sell away his dozen prime field hands. They were bound, all of them, to a dealer in Columbia, South Carolina. When the day came and they were put in shackles into the wagon, she had to run upstairs and cover her ears so as not to hear the families wailing down in the shacks. All John had said was No buck nigger of mine will wear a Federal uniform, I’ll promise you that. But for all his warning and preparation she could not believe the moment had come to leave Fieldstone. The fear made her legs weak. She could not imagine how to live except in her own home, with her own things, and the Georgian world arranged to provide her and her family what their station demanded. And though Aunt Letitia was gone, she had infected them with her panic. For all his foresight, John was running around this way and that, red-faced, shouting and giving orders. The boys, roused out of bed and still only half dressed, came down the stairs with their rifles and ran out through the back. Mattie went to her bedroom and stood not knowing where to start. She heard herself whimpering. Somehow she dressed and grabbed whatever she could from her armoire and bath and threw everything into two portmanteaus. She heard a gunshot and, looking out the back window, saw one of the mules go down on its knees. Roscoe was leading another from the stable, while her older boy, John Junior, primed his rifle. It seemed only minutes later, with the sun barely on the treetops, that the carriages were waiting out front. Where were they to seat themselves? Both carriages were loaded with luggage and food hampers and sacks of sugar and flour. And now the morning breeze brought the smoke around from the stacks where John had set the fodder alight. And Mattie felt it was her own sooty life drifting away in the sky. when the jamesons were gone, Pearl stood in the gravel path still holding her satchel. The Massah had only glanced at her before laying his whip on the horses. Roscoe, driving the second carriage, had come past her and, without looking, dropped at her feet something knotted in a handkerchief. She made no move to retrieve it. She waited in the peace and silence of their having gone. She felt the cool breeze on her legs. Then the air grew still and warm and, after a moment in which the earth seemed to draw its breath, the morning sun spread in a rush over the plantation. Only then did she pick up what Roscoe had dropped. She knew immediately what it was through the cloth: the same two gold coins he had showed her once when she was little. His life savings. Dey real, Miss Porhl, he had said. You putem ’tween yer teeth you taste how real dey is. You see dem eagles? You git a passel of dese an you c’n fly lak de eagles high, high ober de eart—das what de eagles mean on dese monies. Pearl felt the hot tears in her throat. She went around the big house, past the outbuildings and the smoking fodder and the dead mules, and past the slave quarters where they were busy singing and putting their things together, and down along the trail through the woods to where the Massah had given leave to lay out a graveyard. There were by now six graves in this damp clearing, each marked by a wood shingle with the person’s name scratched in. The older grave mounds, like her mother’s, were covered with moss. Pearl squatted and read the name aloud: Nancy Wilkins. Mama, she said. I free. You tole me, Mah chile, my darlin Porhl, you will be free. So dey gone and I is. I free, I free like no one else in de whole worl but me. Das how free. Did Massah have on his face any look for his true-made chile? Uh-uh. Lak I hant his marigol eyes an high cheeks an more his likeness dan de runts what his wife ma’m made with the brudders one and two. I, with skin white as a cahnation flow’r. Pearl fell forward to her knees and clasped her hands. Dear God Jesus, she whispered, make a place fer dis good woman beside you. An me, yore Porhl, teach me to be free. slowly, the slaves, with their belongings wrapped in bundles or carried in old carpetbags, walked up to the main house and distributed themselves out front under the cypresses. They looked into the sky as if whatever it was they were told was coming would be from that direction. They wore their Sunday clothes. There were seven adults—two men, the elder Jake Early and Jubal Samuels, who had but one eye, and five women, including the old granny who could not walk very well—and three small children. The children were unusually quiet. They stayed close by and made bouquets of weeds or pressed round stones and pebbles in the earth. Jake Early did not have to counsel patience. The fear they had all seen in the eyes of the fleeing Massah and Mistress told them that deliverance had come. But the sky was cloudless, and as the sun rose everyone settled down and some even nodded off, which Jake Early regretted, feeling that when the Union soldiers came they should find black folk not at their ease but smartly arrayed as a welcoming company of free men and women. He himself stood in the middle of the road with his staff and did not move. He listened. For the longest while there was nothing but the mild stirring of the air, like a whispering in his ear or the rustle of woodland. But then he did hear something. Or did he? It wasn’t exactly a sound, it was more like a sense of something transformed in his own expectation. And then, almost as if what he held was a divining rod, the staff in his hand pointed to the sky westerly. At this, all the others stood up and came away from the trees: what they saw in the distance was smoke spouting from different points in the landscape, first here, then there. But in the middle of all this was a change in the sky color itself that gradually clarified as an upward-streaming brown cloud risen from the earth, as if the world was turned upside down. And, as they watched, the brown cloud took on a reddish cast. It moved forward, thin as a hatchet blade in front and then widening like the furrow from the plow. It was moving across the sky to the south of them. When the sound of this cloud reached them, it was like nothing they had ever heard in their lives. It was not fearsomely heaven-made, like thunder or lightning or howling wind, but something felt through their feet, a resonance, as if the earth was humming. Then, carried on a gust of wind, the sound became for moments a rhythmic tromp that relieved them as the human reason for the great cloud of dust. And then, at the edges of this sound of a trompled-upon earth, they heard the voices of living men shouting, finally. And the lowing of cattle. And the creaking of wheels. But they saw nothing. Involuntarily, they walked down toward the road but still saw nothing. The symphonious clamor was everywhere, filling the sky like the cloud of red dust that arrowed past them to the south and left the sky dim, it was the great processional of the Union armies, but of no more substance than an army of ghosts. clarke had in his foraging party a two-wagon train, a string of three extra mules, and twenty men mounted. General orders specified no fewer than fifty men. He was several miles off the column, and so, coming upon the plantation, he resolved to make quick work of it. As they rode onto the grounds he immediately saw, and ignored, the slaves standing there. He shook his head. They had their old cracked drummers’ cases and cotton sacks tied up with their things on the ground beside them. He posted his pickets and set the men to work. In the yard behind the outbuildings, the fodder stack was a smoking pile, flakes of black ash blowing off in the breeze. There were three mules with their heads blown all to hell. His orders were to respond to acts of defiance commensurately. Nor was he less determined when the men marched out of the dairy with sacks of sugar, cornmeal, flour, and rice on their shoulders. In the smokehouse, the shelves sagged with crocks of honey and sorghum. Hanging from hooks were the sides of bacon and cured hams the Massah didn’t have time for the taking. And one of the bins was filled with a good two hundred pounds of sweet potatoes.

Reading Group Guide

The discussion questions were developed by book clubs across the country who read The March and collectively drafted questions for us.

1. Karen Woods and the Third Monday Book Discussion Group, Twinsburg Public Library

One of the most interesting subplots in The March is the relationship between Pearl and the Yankee soldiers who take her under their wings. Do you find these relationships believable? In particular, would a soldier such as Stephen Walsh really consider marrying Pearl, and possibly having a clearly mixed-race child, at this time in history?

The Yankee generals are beautifully drawn characters. Is General Kilpatrick a mostly an admirable or dishonorable man, given his role in history? Why did Sherman say he wouldn't trade him for anyone else?

2. Sally LeSage and The High Point Mom's Book Club, from Atlanta, Georgia

Sherman believed that his every move being reported gave him a disadvantage in the war. Many military leaders still feel that way today. Discuss the push and pull between the military and the "press," then and now.

Although the Civil War was fought over state's rights as much as slavery, Doctorow primarily addressed the effects of slavery and its abolishment on his characters during the march. Why do you think he chose this way of telling the story?

From the shrewd analytical mind of General Sherman, the stoicism of
Wrede Sartorius, the compassion of Emily Thompson, the feistiness of Pearl and the comic relief of Arly, Doctorow show us the minds of his characters as they struggle to survive the cruelty of war. Which of these or other characters in the book do you think you would be most like in a time of crisis and why?

Throughout "The March," Wrede Sartorius was portrayed as having no compassion for his patients; rather he treated each of them as a research subject. Discuss his importance/significance in the book.

3. Cindy Wiser and the As the Page Turns book club
Arly and Will change from Confederate to Union soldiers (and back) and
Pearl changes from black to white (and back) by changing the clothes they wear and the people with whom they associate. Is it true, as Calvin says,
that "the costume you wear is the person you are"?

At the end of the novel, Pearl and David are no longer slaves, but are they free? Has Calvin, who has never lived as a slave, ever lived free?
Are any characters free during the war? Colonel Sartorius, Stephen,
Sherman, even Lincoln, live under constraints caused by their situations,
commitments, and responsibilities. What is freedom? What makes us free?

4. Micheller McCaffrey and The Beachbums Bookclub from Sarasota,FL

Historians have debated whether Sherman's march to the sea was simply a particularly brutal act of war or whether it was a war crime. Do you think Sherman's march was justified? Why or Why not?

How would his was campaign compare with current law of war standards?

The emancipated slaves played many roles in The March. Did Pearl understand her new status? How did she come to realize the difference between freedom and independence?

5. Louise Smith and her book club from Mitchell, SD

Survival is one of the main themes of the novel.  For each character it has a different meaning.  Which have adopted survival mechanisms used to cope?  Describe some of these mechanisms each employs and how these skills help them to survive.

In the opening chapter Pearl prays, "Dear God Jesus...teach me to be free."  To what extent is her prayer granted?
Is Arly, the Southern rebel, simply a wily individual who takes advantage of any opportunity that presents itself or is there more to him than that?  What impact does he have on others and on events?

Customer Reviews

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March 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 71 reviews.
CorkieK More than 1 year ago
Following the Sherman's March through Georgia with a cast of characters, this book offers some insight as to how it affected individuals caught up in war. Excellent character creation and plot lines. I hated for the ending to come up so quickly. It could have been twice as long and I still would have enjoyed every page!
SmithDoug More than 1 year ago
One of the most fantastic pieces of historical fiction ever created, the characters in this novel are all at once highly believable, tragic, and confounding. Told with typical Doctorow flare, this is a must-read.
JJCollins More than 1 year ago
By J.J. Collins “The March,” - by E.L. Doctorow; places the reader at the heart and center of General William Tecumseh Sherman's famous march of 1864-65 through Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina, It is an engrossing book, enabling the reader to transport themselves into the very heart of the massive force of over 60,000 men, and grasp the destructive power of this massive all consuming entity. By using a wide variety of characters, be they white or black, men, women, and children, unionist or rebel, rich and poor, generals and privates, freed slaves and slave owners, Doctorow provides the reader with an insight into the destructive power of war, but yet, manages to convey on us all the unique qualities of the human spirit, resourcefulness and determination in tough and desperate times. Sherman’s March - was focussed on the destruction of the Confederate South's physical and psychological capacity to wage war. Sherman like his superior’s believed that the Civil War would end, only if the Confederacy’s strategic, economic, and psychological capacity for warfare was decisively broken. Sherman therefore applied the principles of scorched earth, he ordered his troops to burn crops, kill livestock and consume supplies. Finally, he destroyed civilian infrastructure along his path of advance to be ripped up and destroyed before accepting the surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston and his forces in North Carolina on April 26, 1865. This “Scorched Earth Policy”, is often considered a component strategy of total war. Doctorow manages to paint descript pictures throughout his novel through an effective interchange of characters. He brings the reader on a journey of human compassion while on the other hand, deftly highlighting the very worst of human nature too. In a war that was destined for an inevitable outcome from the inception of Sherman’s march through to its very conclusion. Doctorow manages to provide the reader with an understanding and insight into the deceptive forces of war, from numbness to complete heartbreak, from hero status to suspicious traitor, from shocking experiences to complete indifference to suffering. Doctorow masterfully leaves us in no doubt about this massive force’s sheer destructive power on every level, removing once and for all, any notion or romantic belief of war. “The March” – provides us with an insider’s experience of this slow moving, all powerful living breathing entity grinding and scorching its way across three southern states, the significance of which would prove to be profound. It would change southern culture, tradition and life forever, ultimately resulting in the freeing of slaves and providing them with 40 acres and a mule. Above all, the most realisation for black people
Guest More than 1 year ago
My husband was reading this book on a trip we recently went on and I'd finished all my reading material so I started reading his: this book. And I haven't liked a character named Pearl so much since Nathanial Hawthorne's Pearl in The Scarlet Letter, though she, of course, played a much smaller role. And I liked the fact that although this book is technically fiction, there are both fictional and real figures from history in it. Normally books like this bore me because I'm more in the sci-fi/fantasy/horror realm, but this was a great change.
stretch on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The March is a dramatization of the devastation wrought from total warfare and emancipation of the slaves of General Sherman¿s and the Army of the West campaign through the south. Rather than focus on the historical events themselves E. L. Doctorow weaves a narrative of the march from multiple perspectives including well known generals, rebel turncoats, freed slaves, a British war correspondent, a photographer, dispossessed plantation owners, a surgeon, and a few soldiers who meet their ends along the way. There are some excellent passages and writing about the march itself as living organism that has to feed and tamed in order to achieve it¿s ultimate goal. Also, the dialogue between characters is spot on, making the character to character interaction seem natural and fluid. Match that with an obvious desire to present the history accurately and you¿ve got the raw materials for a great novel. However, perhaps that book¿s greatest short coming was intended to be its greatest strength; the vast array of characters.Although I can see why Doctorow would want to include such a wide array of perspectives of such a grand event, individually the characters are not given an enough space to be fully developed and flourish. I think the incomplete realizations and disjointed/abortive storylines are meant to emphasize the chaos of war; if so, it didn¿t work for me. Another issue I had with the book is that sometimes the characters didn¿t seem like characters at all instead they are used to represent larger historical forces that are not necessarily at work in the micro-stories that are the focus of the narrative. It seems like Doctorow is trying to pull all these individual stories together in order to lecture to the reader about the injustices of the time. It seems to me that the best historical fiction allows the reads complete entry into another time and place with all the prejudices and limitations of that experience. Perhaps if the a few of the characters were given more space, more depth, and more nuance there wouldn¿t be this issue of distance between the reader and the events.In the end, I¿m not sorry to have spent time reading this novel, there is plenty of good writing in the various individual stories to recommend it, but falls a bit short of my expectations.
gwendolyndawson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A collection of intertwined tales surrounding Sherman's march through the South during the Civil War. Touching overall but a bit boring or overly cliched at times.
twallace on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The March investigates Sherman's march through Georgia and the Carolinas from the multiple viewpoints of a wide cast of characters, both Confederate and Union. After a slightly slow beginning, the novel becomes more interesting as the different characters' lives twine together in unexpected ways. As always, Doctorow's writing is beautiful, and the resulting work is thought-provoking and enjoyable...but not stunning like some of his others.
bard721 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Read for a book club - was not prepared for the graphic descriptions of civil war surgery/injury. Perfered Sharra's Gettysburg - more history less fiction.
dougwood57 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The March is not bad book, Doctorow is a talented writer. But it did not have a feel of verisimilitude for me. The characters seemed thin. The Civil War was just a backdrop for the story. It could have been a story of displaced people anywhere. Better Civil War fiction is available: Red Badge of Courage, Ambrose Bierce, Lincoln by Gore Vidal.
mnlohman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story of Sherman's march to Atlanta. Doctorow's usual wonderful multi-layered tale.
bobmoore on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After reading other Civil War fiction (see my list) this reads like a great writer notching his belt - Civil War novel, ka-ching. The story is mildly interesting and the descriptions are passable. Given the works Doctorow has produced, i.e. Ragtime, Billy Bathgate, etc. this won't be the one he's remembered for.
Vidalia on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Powerful. Docotorw makes real the brutal tidal wave that was Sherman's March to the Sea. I was completely absorbed from the first page. Doctorow gives us individual dramas, defeats and survial stories swept along by the largest, most devastating act of war-revenge to ever happen American soil.
jody on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have found myself spending considerable time in hospital waiting rooms of late, and in situations like these I¿m always thankful for a good book. So I have spent my waiting hours reading E.L. Doctorow¿s The March, which was released in 2006 and hit the New York Times Bestseller list without any problems. Though not to be confused with Geraldine Brooks¿ March, Doctorow¿s novel also deals with the America Civil War as we follow Sherman¿s troops through Georgia and into the Carolinas. This band of Union soldiers gathers as it goes, a virtual grab bag of individuals that I became completely besotted with. There are freed slaves, turn-coats, young orphans, southern belles and defunct doctors along with the usual rabble we¿ve learnt of time and again.Politics aside, Doctorow puts a human face on this war which is refreshing. There are badies on both sides and it¿s a good idea not to get too attached to any one character. Doctorow is as brutal with them as the war was to all. It is a moving and honest portrayal of the times and if you have a mild to moderate interest in the Civil War I would suggest you find a copy.But don¿t stop there. Earlier this year I read Paradise Alley by Kevin Baker. This was released some years ago, but is definitely one not to miss. Set in New York City, it is a fictional account of the riots (the worst in US history) caused by the establishment of the draft to man troops fighting the South. It caused a rebellion amongst the poor and working class simply because $300 you could buy your name out of the draft. See ¿ they were even doing it back then! Personally, I had never read any fiction or otherwise on this topic and I found it completely enthralling. The characters are perfectly believable and the events well researched and from what I could discover, true to historical fact. I devoured this book in record time and found not only was it utterly enjoyable, but I actually learnt something new in American history. As a Canadian I was exposed to more than enough American history at school, but someone left this little morsel off our plate (or maybe I wasn¿t listening that day). Either way, this is a great book for modern history buffs, and I recommend it for one of those compelling reads we are always looking out for.
podperson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Heros and villains, mostly confederate during Sherman's march to the sea and beyond. Trust Doctorow to take the view of the losing side (white southerners0 and the underdog (black former slaves). Still not his best work.
mrstreme on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"War is hell."The Union march through Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina utilized one of the oldest military tactics - burn civilian houses, steal their food, rape their women and leave them with nothing. Demoralize the enemy by getting them wear it hurts the most - at home.This novel follows several characters whose lives were turned upside down by Sherman's "March to the Sea" (and up the coast). From freed slaves to Southern belles to crazed Rebel soldiers to the high Army brass, this novel shows how the pain and suffering of war is not only confined to those in actual battle. War is also hell for the wives, mothers and children on the homefront, for the journalists trying to get the story, for the politicians whose policies impact the very reason for fighting. It's simply hell for all.If you enjoy Civil War fiction, Doctorow's book is a smart, fast and entertaining read.
shawnd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an historical fiction account of General Sherman's military march through the South during the American Civil War. Filled with a tightly bound cast of characters (which have an annoying tendency of trickling into the story even until the book is almost over), the story moves along but does not wow. Perhaps more well written than Doctorow's City of God, The March is inferior to Billy Bathgate and Homer & Langley.Fortunately in this novel, Sherman is included in the cast, however other famous notables like Lincoln and Grant only make cameo appearances. Other characters include a naturalized German Union surgeon, a couple of requisite Southern Belles, a Rebel criminal duo posing as Union soldiers more for survival than espionage, and a mulatto daughter of a plantation owner. Perhaps typecast and typical, there are superior Civil War historical fiction accounts, although perhaps none so dedicated to painting Sherman and his effort so singularly.
nivramkoorb on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In looking at other reviews of this novel, I am struck by how many people focused on the characters and their seeming lack of development as a flaw in the book. The fact is the "March" was the lead character. Doctorow's inclusion of so many characters and his dipping into their minds helped create a large canvas for his book. He gives us an opportunity to see the impact of the war on so many different characters so we see the large effect. A focus on one character would have been a different story than the one I think Doctorow wanted to present. This is a great book and splitting hairs over fact versus fiction misses the feel of the story. As a result of this book I will spend more time learning about the Civil. A must read
katiekrug on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"I don¿t know what to think. I¿ve lost everything to this war. And I see steadfastness not in the rooted mansions of a city but in what has no roots, what is itinerant. A floating world.¿ (page 61)The March is, quite simply, exactly what historical fiction should be. It brings alive a specific time and place, creates characters that are complex and reflective of their period, and brings to the reader the sights, smells and sounds of that period. Doctorow tells the story of Sherman¿s March to the Sea and the end of the American Civil War through numerous characters ¿ white, black, free, slave, army, civilian, rich and poor. The sheer number of characters and stories could be overwhelming but they are connected by the March itself, a shared experience, and really the central character of the book. Through a kaleidoscope of images and stories, Doctorow pieces together a portrait of war, death, brutality, kindness, hope and redemption.One of my favorite parts was the brief glimpse we are given of President Lincoln very near the end of the war. Wrede, a doctor observes: "His affliction might, after all, be the wounds of the war he¿d gathered into himself, the amassed miseries of this torn-apart country made incarnate. Wrede, who had attended every kind of battle death, could not recall having ever before felt this sad for another human being.¿This book sucked me in, both as a very good, well-told story, and as a fictionalized account of a part of American history I am not deeply familiar with. My one complaint would be that a map of Sherman¿s route through Georgia and the Carolinas would have been helpful, as would some indication ¿ perhaps in an afterword ¿ of what characters were real or based on historical figures and which were purely fictionalized (some are obvious, but I now have a lot of Googling to do).
bfolds on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I approached this book with mixed feelings. I've loved the previous Doctorow books I've read, but having been raised in the South knew that the story was likely to be painful.I should have known that I could trust Doctorow to create fully-realized characters on both sides of this terrible conflict . This is a beautifully written, important book for anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the impact this event in American history.
theageofsilt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"The March" portrays dozens of characters swept up in Sherman's march through the South. Freed slaves, wounded soldiers, Confederate n'er-do-wells and displaced Southern aristocracy are among the throngs that careen from Georgia to South Carolina to North Carolina. I found the book unsatisfying in its development of some important characters. We hear very little of the inner voices of some such as Emily Thompson, who is the daughter of a judge and becomes what at the time would have been considered little more than a harlot because of her attraction to an unfeeling Army doctor. The doctor, Wrede Sartorius, is problematic too -- detached almost to the point of pathology. But other characters, such as Pearl, are vivid. We watch as she matures in self-awareness and understanding of the nature of slavery and oppression.
pickoftheliterate on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Like Middlesex, this was another that lived up to its hype. Doctorow does an amazing job of showing the reader what it must have been like to be a part of Sherman¿s legendary and incendiary march through the South during the waning days of the Civil War.Perhaps the best element of the book is the restraint that Doctorow shows with his topic. Reading it, I couldn¿t help reflecting that many a lesser writer would fall over himself with background and plot summary of the War Between The States. Doctorow barely touches on the big picture of the war; he just lets us draw our own conclusions as we follow a small but varied cast of characters: Pearl, a recently freed slave; Arly and Will, two soldiers who swap sides repeatedly in a tragicomic subplot; and Colonel Sartorious, a surgeon indifferent to almost anything except his medical duties in almost impossible circumstances.Altogether the book is gripping and unnerving. Doctorow has written a real masterpiece but left us to decide what messages we take away from it.
bookmindful on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Could not finish. Impressionistic writing style is itself interesting and presents a multifaceted story. The characters themselves were hard to get interested in.
zip_000 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have read most of Doctorow's books (all but his first two, and one later one), and this one is I'd say one of my least favorite. It lacks something that the others have, though I am hard pressed to say what that is exactly. Doctorow often writes about historical events, but typically those events are just backdrops or settings that allow for interesting situations and speculations. Here though, the background events are, I think, too large to just stay in the background, and the foreground characters and events are never as interesting as those in, say, "Billy Bathgate," "The Book of Daniel," or "Ragtime."The only compelling thing that I really found here was the doctor. The character seemed to know more than he could possibly know - not in a bad storytelling way, but in an uncanny metaphysical way. I wish that there had been more of the doctor, but at the same time, I think that if the character had been more drawn out, whatever it is that makes him uncanny and compelling would likely be lost.That being said, it was certainly an enjoyable read. A only halfway decent Doctorow novel is still a very good book.
edwardlally on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Although this was on a number of "best of" lists, and I was looking forward to the subject matter I ended up disappointed. There was not a significant amount of historical detail to help me learn more about Sherman's infamous march. Neither were the characters and plot developed enough to make this a great work of fiction. Doctorow writes well, but the story was lacking.
Joycepa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This novel revolves around William Tecumseh Sherman's march to the sea, from Atlanta to Goldsborough, N.C. the story is told in the 3rd person from different points ov view; the participating characters range from Pearl, a half-black child of a Georgia plantation owner to her former mistress to soldiers from both Union and Confederate armies to Sherman himself.Doctorow's treatment of Sherman, which is hostile, depends heavily on Sherman's high-strung temperament, his restless activity and at times lapses from the historical record. In the process, Doctorow makes some minor historical errors--placing Sherman's breakdown after First Bull Run when in reality it happened months later in St. Louis. The description of the breakdown itself is startling, since I know of no historical record that shows that Sherman had such an episode during or after Bull Run, which Doctorow implies. Another, far more startling error is quoting Sherman as saying he didn't understand why the defence of Atlanta had been given to 'that stupid Frenchman Beauregard". He might indeed wonder, since to anyone else's knowledge, it was John Bell Hood who lost Atlanta. How did an editor let that slip by? The story is in no way enhanced by it. Another perfectly legitimate literary device is a fictional account of an assassination attempt on Sherman after the Battle of Bentonville. What is bothersome about this, however, is that there is no afterward, as is usual in the case of fiction placed in a historical context, explaining the liberties taken with the facts. This is a major and unwelcome departure from normal custom.That said, the book is brilliant, especially at the end, particularly at the Battle of Bentonville. Doctorow evokes the chaos of battle, the horror of war. Through the character of Dr. Wrede Sartorius, Doctorow shows the terrible cost and human suffering of the most wasteful of human endeavors, war.There is a section where Pryce, the English journalist, is looking down from a crotch in a tree at hand-to-hand combat, describing; "This was not war as adventure nor war for a solemn cause, it was war at its purest, a mindless mass rage severed from any cause, ideal or moral principle". (p. 298) The brilliance of the book is in showing how people manage to survive and go on with their lives in the middle of and despite the "mindless mass rage". Despite the really serious--and irresponsible--lapses noted above, the book is an outstanding work.