Wednesday, May 06, 2009

CWL---The Great March To The Sea

Southern Storm: Sherman's March To The Sea, Noah Trudeau, 35 maps, 42 black and white illustrations, order of battle, notes, bibliography, index, 671 pp., Harper Collins, 2008,$35.00.

Trudeau, former National Public Radio program producer and popular Civil War historian, addresses William T. Sherman's 1864 Atlanta to Savannah march through Georgia. Sherman's chief objective was to demonstrate to the Confederacy that there was no place in the South safe from Union troops. Industry and agriculture that supported the South's ability to make war was put to the torch as well as many civilian homes. Trudeau addresses the destruction and finds that it was similar to and did not exceed other campaigns by Northern and Southern armies. Nevertheless, the campaign shocked Georgians who had not experienced the war in any way other than sending soldiers, commissary goods, and armaments forth.

Confederate resistance was limited and what small defensive efforts were taken they were uncoordinated; there was not theatre commander to direct the Confederate resistance. The author does not go to great depths regarding Richmond's lack of leadership on this issue. Over and over again Trudeau shows that Sherman’s orders allowed his army have a great deal of latitude about what to burn and what to take. In a very thorough manner 60,000 Federal soldiers seized Georiga's food and forage. The destruction of Georgia railroads was one of the chief goals of the campaign and was thoroughly accomplished.

Trudeau concludes that Sherman's operational generalship was vastly superior to the Confederate resistance. Also Trudeau frequently shows that the Federal wing and corps commanders made significant tactical decisions. Both wing commanders, Howard Slocum as well as the cavalry corps commander, Kilpatrick, were Army of the Potomac veterans with mixed records in the east. The relationship between Sherman's operational decisions and the other commanders tactical decisions was founded upon the army's engineer officers who produced quickly superior maps for brigade, divisions and corps commanders. Trudeau offers abundant civilians' voices as well as those from enlisted Federal and Confederate ranks. His work is an enlisted men's, civilians' and generals' story.

The army's engineers also transported and installed pontoons and repaired and built bridges from materials on hand. Houses closest to the river nearly always were torn down to provide materials for bridge construction. It appears most destruction of family dwellings that occurred during the campaign was done in order to build bridges. At the operational level, Sherman kept the Confederate commanders guessing as to his destination. Was it Charleston or was it Columbia South Carolina? What it Mobile, Alabama? Was it Savannah, Georgia? This lack of knowing kept Confederate forces fractured.

Trudeau moderately approaches the campaign's myths and gently turns them over. Not necessarily brutal but similar to other armies' campaigns, Sherman's March was neither a lark nor complete desolation. Confederate soldiers fought bravely and against the odds but were often ill-led and themselves victims of meager central planning. Did Sherman abandon runaway slaves to following Rebel guerrillas? Yes. Sherman's policy allowed single families to join the march as employed servants but he refused to escort large bands of runaways through Georgia. As his army lived off the land, he would not allow it to forage for large numbers of blacks. He never put Andersonville prison on the list of the campaign's objectives due to the fact the the army could not absorb 24,000 diseased and starving prisoners and still march.

CWL notes that the maps were very handy and contained weather information; this is similar to Trudeau's maps in Gettysburg that had a clock and weather temperatures. CWL relied upon Earl McElfresh's watercolor campaign map to see the large operational picture and gain an understanding of the terrain and the numerous rivers that had to be crossed. McElfresh Maps are essential additions to CWL's library and are frequently consulted while on guided tours and reading books. The maps are printed on durable paper yet CWL has so frequently consulted the Gettysburg and the Antietam maps and that he has replaced them once.

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