Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Just finished viewing: Sherman's March: The Shocking Campaign that Ended the Civil War by The History Channel

Somehow I missed another History Channel Civil War program during its original airing, but thanks to my local library I was able to check out this interesting DVD. Originally shown in 2007, Sherman's March depicts the actions and engagements of Sherman's 60,000 men (named bummers) as they marched some 650 miles from Atlanta to Savannah then up through South Carolina into North Carolina, all in about 100 days.

The DVD focuses largely on Sherman and Grant's plans to wage a multi-front war in order to keep the Confederate armies from supporting one another as they had previously in the conflict. The main two campaigns were of course, Grant's movement on Richmond against Lee's army, and Sherman's movement on Atlanta against the Army of Tennessee. Both started in early May of 1864 and both used flanking movements to approach their objectives. But Sherman focused more on destroying not only the South's material ability to continue the war, but also their will to continue to fight.

After burning part of Atlanta on November 15, 1864, Sherman set off the next day with a vow, "I can make this march and make Georgia howl," he said. Make it howl he did. Being so deep in enemy territory Sherman set out with basically no supply line. He quickly issued Special Field Order #120 that allowed his soldiers to "forage liberally." As they marched, soldiers were allowed to take what they pleased; be it food or material goods. Sherman called this brand of fighting, "hard war," modern historians now call it "total war;" that is, war not only against the enemy armies, but also against the civilian population. One Georgia woman said "Like demons they rush in," to describe a bummer raid on her farm. As the march continued the soldiers burned and stripped the countryside bare for a 60 mile wide swath of destruction across the Georgia countryside.

One noted point that the DVD brought up and that I was not aware of, was that Sherman had a special map made up that had important 1860 census information for each country. With this map he knew where he could do the most damage, and possibly expect to find provisions for his men and animals. Pretty smart, eh? This helped solve much of his supply problem on the march. Another problem that irritated Sherman was the number of slaves that followed his army as they marched. He was more than willing to take on adult male slaves and use them to build roads and do heavy labor, but he did not want woman and children following along and slowing down the march. At one point in the march one of his generals, Jefferson C. Davis (can you imagine the jokes he had to put up with?) pulled up a pontoon bridge after the army crossed a river in order to keep the slaves back that followed. Of course, they were left to Confederate cavalry that nipped at Sherman's heels and were returned to slavery. None of this had much of an impact on Sherman, as he viewed African Americans in general as an inferior race.

Sherman to this day has an interesting place in history. He seems to be either loved or hated. Some consider him as savior, while others consider him a terrorist of the first order. Whatever your take on Sherman, it is hard to deny that his actions helped end the war sooner than if he had adopted and conducted a more passive campaign. His destruction of military and civilian property and the Confederate will to continue the fight probably saved lives in the long run. And although there was not a significant army to oppose him, Sherman helped end the war by marching and destroying property, rather than inflicting battle causalities to both the enemy and his own men; as Grant was doing against Lee in Virginia.

The DVD does a pretty good job of capturing the historic feel of the event. Granted, Sherman's beard leaves a lot to be desired. And although the march historically happened during the fall and winter months, the DVD showed the environment as if it was summer time.

The video is certainly worth watching for a 94 minute overview of Sherman's actions from November 1864 to March 1865. For more details, look into Noah Andre Trudeau's recently released book, Southern Storm: Sherman's March to the Sea.

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