Marching With Sherman by Mark H. Dunkelman

Mark Dunkelman is a descendant of a member of the 154th New York.  He grew up on stories his father told him that his father had heard from his father’s grandfather, John Langhan, regarding Sherman’s march through Georgia and the Carolinas.  In this book, he follows the 154th New York as they march across Georgia and up into South and North Carolina.  Like Trudeau in Southern Storm, he provides a soldier’s view, gained from soldier writings, including his ancestor’s.

Dunkelman does a wonderful job with this book.  He gives us outstanding historical analysis along with the narrative of the 154th’s march.  For one example, he writes of the myth that Sherman pursued a “scorched earth” policy.  “Nurtured by this mythology, legends of Sherman’s marches have spread like kudzu in the South.  For fourteen years, University of Georgia folklorist Elissa R. Henken collected, analyzed, and categorized such legends from throughout the state.  Aware that Sherman was considered a fiend incarnate whose army razed not only Georgia and the Carolinas but much of the South as well, Henken was surprised to find that legends detailing destruction were paradoxically outnumbered by ‘stories about the places that Sherman did not destroy.’  The tales revealed several motifs.  Towns were reportedly spared because Sherman had a girlfriend living there during his antebellum stay in the South, or because of a Masonic tie between the general and a resident (despite the fact that Sherman was not a Mason), or because he found the place simply too beautiful to destroy.  Many of the legends thrive in towns that Sherman never passed through.  Henken considers them expressions of Lost Cause pride in which the ogre Sherman is tamed by the influence of southern civilization, most often by genteel but tough and wily women.  In addition to preservation legends regarding towns, Henken recorded family legends about the saving of a single house or property.  These tales also generally feature women, determined and fierce ‘steel magnolias’ who outwit, tame, or defeat Sherman and his men through cunning, defiance, or violence.  Candid Southerners have acknowledged the unreliability of these legends.  The inhabitants of Screven County, Georgia (through which the 154th New York passed), believed so strongly that the Yankees ransacked and burned every house, historian Dixon Hollingsworth wrote, ‘that each family seemed to be compelled in later years to devise some explanation as to why its home was spared.’  But Sherman’s men did not wantonly burn houses, Hollingsworth observed, and usually left enough provisions on a farm to support a family for a few days.  ‘In fact they marched by hundreds of Screven County homes without even infringing on the privacy of the families.’ ” [pp. 11-12]

White men living in Sherman’s path took action.  “Many of the white men were away serving in the Confederate army, and those that remained–the elderly and infirm, those exempt from service–tended to flee Sherman’s advance, herding male slaves and livestock to hiding places, leaving the women and children, white and black, to fend for themselves.” [p. 14]

1864 was an election year, not only for President but also for other offices.  “The New York gubernatorial contest pitted Republican Reuben E. Fenton–the congressman representing Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties [the home of the 154th New York’s soldiers]–against the Democratic incumbent, Horatio Seymour, whom the soldiers widely considered to be a Copperhead (as war opponents were termed).  Running on the Republican ticket to replace Fenton in Congress was the 154th’s own Surgean Henry Van Aernam, who was opposed by Democrat Jonas K. Button, a wealthy farmer from Van Aernam’s hometown of Franklinville. … Before Election Day fell on Tuesday, November 8, New York State soldiers cast their ballot by power of attorney.  Among the 150 veterans, Major Warner guessed, not more than 5 or 6 voted for McClellan.  The recruits, Levi Bryant declared, were unanimous ‘for Old Abe.’  A decided majority of the rest of Sherman’s army also favored Lincoln. … Fenton and Van Aernam both won their races.  Van Aernam was discharged from the service on November 5 and left Atlanta the next day aboard a hospital train.” [pp. 16-17]

Dunkelman starts, naturally, with Atlanta.  “Henry Van Aernam estimated that Atlanta had about 4,000 inhabitants when the city fell.  The population, which stood at 9,554 in 1860, had swelled to some 20,000 or more by 1864, only to dwindle during the siege as refugees sought safer environs.  Van Aernam detected distinct types among those who remained.  There were wealthy, virulent secessionists, who hypocritically took an oath of allegiance to the United States and clamored for safeguards to protect their property.  Then there were renegade northerners, who expected sympathy and protection on account of their birthplace but had aided the rebellion and were now praying for McClellan’s election.  Among this group the soldiers spotted some familiar faces.” [pp. 29-30]  He also gives us the reactions of some civilians who encountered the soldiers of the 154th New York.  “When the Yankees marched into Atlanta, ten-year-old Carrie Berry wrote in her diary, ‘We were afraid they were going to treat us badly.’  Her fears soon dissipated; she found the enemy to be orderly and well behaved.  ‘I think I shall like the Yankees very well,’ she wrote.  When her father arranged for the family to remain in Atlanta, Berry sadly parted with expelled relatives and witnessed the city’s ruin, but she voiced no bitterness toward the enemy.  she described the family’s Yankee guard as ‘a very good friend to us.’  Long after Sherman’s men left Atlanta, the city filled with returnees, who ostracized the Berrys and others who had remained during the occupation as collaborationists.  The Yankees caused racial upheaval, Samuel Richards noted in his diary, by assuring African Americans of their freedom.  The blacks consequently became impudent and indifferent to the wants of their former masters.  In the UDC story of Neppie Jones, ‘servants’–as slaves were euphemistically called–were ‘faithful and sympathetic’ until Atlanta fell.  But when the Yankees arrived, ‘they deserted their household tasks, seated themselves in rocking chairs on the front porch and gaily called to passing soldiers.’  That egregious misconduct disgusted Yankee officers staying at the Jones home, one of whom declared that he had not left his home ‘to fight for their kind.’  In this tale, white northerners and southerners were united by racism.  In his later years, the African American William Ward recalled that when the Yankees arrived in Atlanta he wondered whether Sherman would keep him enslaved.  But young, able-bodied black men were welcomed to work for the Yankee army.  Finally convinced of his freedom, Ward joined the ammunition train and remained with it until the end of the war.  Along the way, he spread the news of liberation to thousands of his people.”  [pp. 34-35]

During the march, the soldiers would forage from the farms they encountered.  As Dunkelman tells us, “Foraging was just one of the woes the army visited on farm and plantation owners.  On this day [November 6, 1864], when the regiment passed Thomas Maguire’s Rock Bridge plantation, Maguire was hiding in the woods, leaving his family to face the Yankees without him.  This proved to be typical behavior by white male residents in the army’s path, often prompted by rumors of mistreatment of southern men by Sherman’s soldiers.  When Maguire returned home the next afternoon, he was glad to find that his family had not been abused, although much of his property was destroyed.  He listed the damage in his diary: his cotton gin and screw, stables, barn, carriage, wagon, tack, and fences were burned; his steers, sheep, chickens, geese, corn, and potatoes were gone; machinery was smashed to pieces; cotton bales and straw piles were smoldering; and the yard was littered with dead horses and mules.  In the next few days Maguire roamed his grounds, trying to thwart droves of neighbors seeking plunder. … Maguire also reported that he successfully hid some provisions from the enemy.  On the approach of Sherman’s men, farm and plantation owners routinely concealed livestock, food, cotton, and valuables in gardens, forests, and swamps–and the Yankees became adept hunters of hidden goods.  Postwar stories of these hide-and-seek games are legion.  As an aged veteran, Private Charles H. Field of Company B told his grandson of following wagon tracks into a forest to a pile of brush concealing barrels of hams.  In a similar tale, former slave Lucy McCullough of Walton County, Georgia (which the 154th New York traversed), remembered male slaves driving heavy wagons over rain-soaked ground to hide cotton in the woods, making it easy for the Yankees to follow the ruts and burn the cotton.” [p. 43]

Dunkelman also tells us what happened when these white soldiers from New York encountered enslaved African-Americans along the way.  “Members of the 154th New York had encountered black people during their service in Virginia and Tennessee, but never in the numbers they found in Georgia and the Carolinas.  The soldiers–for all their racism–marveled at the slaves’ thirst for freedom and delighted in helping to break their bonds. In his memoir, Alfred Benson recalled the freed people’s jubilee in terms alternately disparaging and admiring.  The ‘ignorant chattels,’ whose concepts were ‘undefined, imperfect, and crude,’ were certain of one fact: ‘that the day of deliverance had surely come.’  Somehow they understood that the success of the Union army meant the end of slavery, and so they flocked to Sherman’s men.  ‘So it was,’ Benson concluded, ‘that while our advance was a line of fire and a very track of desolation, it opened a grand highway to freedom.’ ” [pp. 53-54]  Reactions to the Union soldiers among African-Americans varied, though, as Dunkelman tells us.  Some looked with joy on them, some with despair and fear.  Some praised the Union soldiers, some condemned them.  As to the southern whites, “Clinging to the belief that bonds of affection tied master and slave, southern whites were haunted by the desertion of many of their blacks.  UDC memoirs berated the turncoats and celebrated the contented and loyal ‘servant’ of the Lost Cause myth.  Only the worst blacks followed the Yankees, Confederate diehards proclaimed; the best blacks stayed at home with their owners and were faithful even after emancipation. … In truth, however, many blacks remained on the plantation chiefly out of self-interest; they were elderly or did not want to part with their family members.”  [pp. 54-55]

Dunkelman also delves into sexual relations.  “Some Yankees, like some white slave owners, coerced, convinced, or connived with black females to engage in sexual relations.  Sena Moore was twelve years old when Sherman’s men reached the plantation she lived on near Winnsboro, South Carolina.  Decades later she recalled that a Yankee wanted her to go off with him, but she refused.  He then persuaded another girl to leave with him.  She returned six months later, pregnant with the Yankee’s child.  Modern historians have variously interpreted the scanty sources regarding Sherman’s men and sexual relations.  Joseph Glatthaar found very little evidence in soldiers’ writings to suggest much sexual contact between Sherman’s men and black women, while Jacqueline Glass Campbell contended that encounters between the two must have been common.  Lee Kennett noted occasional references to black mistresses of white officers.  All three agreed that rapes of white women were rare, but Campbell observed that evidence regarding assaults on poor white women is lacking.  Federal military law provided women–white and black–with the opportunity to accuse Union soldiers of sexual crimes (and, significantly, of plunder, pillage, and other depredations).  Across the entire South, approximately 450 Union soldiers were charged in courts-martial for rape or attempted rape of women of both races and all ages and social classes.  Sherman’s men, used to invading and plundering the homes of southern women, may have felt entitled to assault their persons as well.  For their part, southern women likely knew of their ability to bring charges, although the movement of the army hampered prosecution.  In any case, only two of Sherman’s men were tried for rape.  According to Emory Sweetland of the 154th New York, the soldiers were sexually active with black women and poor white women alike.  A deeply religious man, Sweetland kept his wife abreast of the sinful goings-on in the regiment.  When the Georgia march ended, he informed her from Savannah as frankly as he could about his libidinous comrades.  ‘You would be very much shocked,’ he wrote, ‘if you knew how much demoralized (in regard to morals) that nine-tenths of the soldiers have become.  The lower class (both black and white) in the South seem to be totally ignorant of the meaning of the word ‘virtue,’ and both officers and men appear to have cast off all the restraints of home and indulge their passions to the fullest extent.’ ” [pp. 55-56]

By November 23, the 154th New York had made it to Milledgeville, Georgia.  “Camp was at Barrowville, the plantation of Colonel William McKinley, who hid in the woods and left his wife and children to face the enemy without him.  Guy C. McKinley was six years old at the time.  More than six decades later he related hide-and-seek tales involving his father and a pair of slaves.  Under William McKinley’s supervision, a trustworthy slave buried some silver so cleverly that a Yankee pitched his tent over the spot and slept unwittingly above the treasure.  But when McKinley and one-armed Uncle York buried valuables in the blacksmith shop’s furnace, the Yankees quickly uncovered the loot, aided by Uncle York’s treachery.  The traitorous slave also revealed McKinley’s hiding place in the woods.  While the patriarch underwent those humiliations, General Geary and his staff treated the ladies and children with courtesy.  Some attributed the kindness to the presence of a Yankee aunt who had been stranded in Georgia by the war.” [p. 63]  Dunkelman tells us that Milledgeville’s population was majority black at the time.  “Alfred Benson remembered that they were ‘very obsequious’ in welcoming the Yankees.  Now the large numbers of blacks accompanying the army and flocking to it from the countryside joined those already in the city.  The Yankees treated them badly, alleged the Confederate Union, one of Milledgeville’s two weekly newspapers, robbing them of money, clothing, and anything worth stealing.  But the paper later reported that many of the city’s blacks departed with the enemy.  The editor found it remarkable that they included those least expected to leave and–invariably–those who had been pampered with too many liberties.” [pp. 63-64]  The dishonest reporting is typical of the reporting found in the confederate newspapers of the time.

By December 5, the 154th New York had reached the South Fork of Little Ogeechee Branch in Screven County.  “Although three of Sherman’s four corps crossed Screven County, residents reported that the resulting destruction was slight. … A Confederate colonel who was home on leave reported that only four or five houses were burned in all of Screven County.  The Yankees had targeted certain homeowners–a man who hunted escaped union prisoners with bloodhounds, another who barricaded roads in the army’s advance, and a foolhardy fellow who shot the first soldiers to approach his house.  Sherman’s men left the county’s inhabitants with enough provisions to tide them over, the colonel maintained, had they not subsequently been overrun by Joseph Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry.  Wheeler lacked a supply system of his own and, like Sherman, depended on the land for sustenance.  To the rebel colonel, Wheeler’s men were worse than the Yankees; they ‘filled the whole country with terror.’  An unidentified refugee in Screven County commented on the depredations of Wheeler’s cavalry in a letter to the Countryman.  Widely reputed to be ‘the greatest horse thieves in the country,’ Wheeler’s men ‘never acted worse than they have recently.’  While the Yankees were burning and destroying property in one part of the county, the writer alleged, Wheeler’s troopers were stealing horses and mules in another.  Remarking on this letter, Joseph Turner wrote, ‘The whole land mourns, on account of Wheeler’s cavalry.  Here in middle Georgia, they are dreaded fully as much, if not more, than the yankees [sic].’ ” [pp. 81-82]

Along the march we find that “all but one of forty slaves” at the Zettler farm “had followed the enemy.” [pp. 83-84]  Also, “A Unionist refugee who had fled his home to escape Confederate conscription officers joined the 20th Corps column in Effingham County, intending to follow it to Savannah.  ‘I have been hunted through swamps month after month,’ he told the northerners.  ‘My wife and children have been half starved, insulted, and abused, and all because we loved the old flag.’  Touched by his story, the soldiers took a collection and presented him with a $130 purse.  He broke down and cried with gratitude.” [p. 85]

In discussing African-American refugees who accompanied the Federal columns, Dunkelman writes, “The thirty-odd Georgia counties the army entered contained some 150,000 slaves in 1860.  Sherman stated that up to 70,000 of them attached themselves to the army at some point, a figure that historian Lee Kennett believes to be vastly inflated.  Lloyd Lewis estimated that three-quarters of the blacks turned back after a few days with the army, weary and homesick.  Lewis also noted that the 20th Corps, with its contingent of abolitionist easterners, collected as many blacks as all the western troops of the Right Wing.”  [pp. 89-90]

As you know already, Sherman captured Savannah and presented it to Lincoln as a Christmas present.  “Savannah’s black residents were as delighted with the Yankees’ arrival as the whites were despondent.  A black Baptist minister, the Reverent James Simms, remembered, ‘The cry went around the city from house to house among our race of people, ‘Glory be to God, we are free!’  A white woman listened morosely as a young black girl jumped up and down below her window, singing loudly, ‘All the rebel gone to hell, now Par Sherman come.’  Black joy fed white disgust.  ‘Poor deluded creatures,’ sniffed Elizabeth Mackay Stiles, ‘with all their suffering they consider themselves in Seventh Heaven–freedom and laziness is such a boon.’  White Savannahians were dismayed by how quickly their black chattels embraced freedom.  The morning Geary’s division entered the city, Caroline A. N. Lamar’s slave William decamped to the Yankees.  On information he provided, soldiers removed great quantities of spirits from the Lamar house.  A day later, Fanny Cohen Taylor’s house slave departed, ‘anxious to enlist in the Federal service.’  ‘You can form no conception of the utter demoralization of the servants,’ wrote Mrs. G. W. Anderson; many families were left without a single slave.  She appended a lengthy list of ‘petted servants’ that had deserted her, and she expected others to follow.  Blacks from the countryside had flocked to the city and, she worried, ‘must plunder for a living.’  She feared for the result if Savannah was left without proper policing.  Most slaves, even those thought to be loyal, fled to the Yankees.  Some voiced bitterness at the treatment they had endured from whites; others were magnanimous in forgiving their former masters.  For their part, whites were alternately hurt, angry, and befuddled by the betrayal.  In a letter to her husband, Caroline Lamar listed defectors among their slaves.  The laundress left without a word, leaving her work undone.  Of four other women, only one promised to stay briefly; the other three decamped.  White women suddenly found themselves performing unfamiliar household tasks.  Fanny Cohen Taylor darned her own socks for the first time in her life.” [p. 103]

As seen elsewhere, their experiences coming face-to-face with slavery changed many minds among the soldiers.  “Stopping at a house to see if he could buy some food, Corporal George Brown of Company A met a light-skinned family of former slaves, including an attractive teenaged girl.  They offered to bake Brown a hoecake, and while they worked, they told him how they had aided escaped Union prisoners.  When Brown offered to pay for the food, they refused his money.  Back at his hut, Brown declared to his tent mate, Andrew Blood, that he had been a Democrat but was now an abolitionist.  He could no longer support a party that would leave enslaved the beautiful young lady he met that day.” [p. 104]

During the occupation, John White Geary served as the military governor of the city.  As Sherman prepared to depart on his march north through the Carolinas, Geary also prepared to leave.  “Savannahians regretted the impending departure of Geary’s division.  ‘The citizens are bound to have us stay,’ Gene Graves wrote.  ‘They have sent a petition to Washington to that effect.’  The document praised Geary as an urbane gentleman, uniformly kind to the citizens, who had done all he could to protect them and their property from insult and injury.  The petitioners pleaded unanimously that he be allowed to remain as commandant.  But Geary’s White Stars were bound to leave. … When that became obvious, the city council passed resolutions thanking Geary for great judgment in the conduct of his business and promising to forever remember him as a high-toned gentleman and a chivalrous soldier.” [pp. 108-109]

In South Carolina, in early February, “Geary’s division camped this night at a crossroads near Thomas Trowell’s plantation.  In the bushes near the big house were found the corpses of three Union soldiers.  Local blacks testified that Trowell had pointed out the Yankees to some Confederate cavalrymen, who shot them in cold blood.  Geary had the victims buried and Trowell’s house and property destroyed and held Trowell to be tried as accessory to murder.  Trowell’s fate went unrecorded in the general’s report.” [pp. 115-116]

Sherman’s march through Georgia and the Carolinas had an effect on Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in the trenches at Petersburg.  “Hundreds of miles away, in General Robert E. Lee’s army in Virginia, Captain John C. Evans worried about his family when he heard rumors of Cheraw’s occupation.  ‘You can’t imagine my anxiety about you at this time,’ he wrote to his wife on March 5.  Eleven days later he was under the impression that Cheraw had been entirely destroyed.  ‘What are my poor dear ones suffering now?’ he wondered.  ‘If I could only know that you are all alive and suffered no bodily harm, I would be so glad, but here I am without one word from you.’  He closed with a plaintive plea: ‘God in mercy preserve my dear family.’  Throughout the Confederate armies, soldiers like Evans fretted about their loved ones in the afflicted states.  They bemoaned the devastation wreaked by Sherman’s army in Georgia, and their despair deepened during the march through the Carolinas.  A Georgian in Lee’s army regretted having to serve in Virginia while the Yankees overran his home state: ‘I had rather fight for those that I love.’  A South Carolina soldier conceded that the Yankees had the upper hand and declared, ‘I would like to hear of some terms of peace before they run clear over us.’  Inspecting Confederate soldiers’ letters seized in South Carolina, reporter David Conyngham found them all to be desponding.  General Lee, worried about sagging morale and increasing desertions by his Georgians and South Carolinians, blamed the situation in part on demoralizing correspondence from home.  ‘The state of despondency that now prevails among our people is producing a bad effect among the troops,’ Lee wrote in February 1865.  ‘Desertions are becoming very frequent and there is good reason to believe that they are occasioned to a considerable extent by letters to the soldiers by their friends at home.’ ” [p. 149]

This book is really well done.  It’s organized chronologically, with each section clearly labeled with the date of the action.  As we follow the 154th New York and compare it with experiences and actions of the rest of the March, we find that their experiences matched the average experiences of soldiers in the March.  I found this book to be a better choice than Trudeau’s Southern Storm for understanding what happened during Sherman’s March, even though Trudeau’s book was longer.  Trudeau only covered the march through Georgia while Dunkelman takes us from Atlanta to the Grand Review.  Trudeau tried to cover as many units as he could while Dunkelman only followed one unit.  Yet, Dunkelman provides outstanding historical analysis, putting the actions in context, telling us their significance, and including historical effects outside of the actual march.  I highly recommend this book for those who wish to understand this part of the war.


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