Civil War Talk Radio: September 12, 2008

by Brett Schulte on September 14, 2008 · 2 comments

Air Date: 091208
Subject: Sherman’s March to the Sea
Books: Southern Storm: Sherman’s March to the Sea
Guest: Noah Andre Trudeau

Summary: Andy Trudeau discusses his new book on Sherman’s March, Southern Storm, and goes over the myths which have been built up around this famous event.

Brett’s Summary: Andy Trudeau, a former National Public Radio Producer, currently is dedicated to writing for a living, both books and magazine articles.  Andy first became interested in the Civil War by moving to the Washington, D.C. area and reading Nine Days (sic), a book by Burke Davis about the Appomattox Campaign.  Trudeau enjoys the fact that the vast majority of research is done in English, making it easier to use immediately.

The author did a lot of research for Southern Storm and based his book primarily on primary sources due to the large number of myths which have popped up.  He cautions that you have to treat anything on Sherman’s March printed even 20 years after the war as suspect.  He gives the example of Sherman’s “bummers” and says *at the time* that Sherman’s soldiers referred to themselves as foragers in their diary entries.  None of these men used the word bummers.  That word was used, Trudeau believes, by media reporting the March to the Sea.  During the march into the Carolinas, the word finally began to be used by soldiers as well.

Trudeau believes different groups of people looked on the march in different ways in order to justify what happened to them.  He points to Georgians speaking of “overwhelming numbers” to explain their lack of resistance during the March to the Sea.  He explains that Georgians in the three toughest spots, Macon, Augusta, and Savannah, did not work together to provide a tougher challenge for Sherman and his men.  He believes Georgians simply rationalized their failure to work together in starting myths about Sherman’s numbers.  Gerry challenges Trudeau on this a bit, believing Sherman would have “steamrolled” the Georgians even if all three cities joined forces.  Trudeau responds by pointing to Sherman’s wagon train, something which slowed down the march and was highly vulnerable.  In addition, Sherman had the added difficulty of crossing three major rivers.  The two basically agree to disagree about the use of the term “desperate” to describe the hypothetical situation of Sherman being stopped at a river for a period of days and running short on food.

Gerry points out this book is unique in that it looks at Sherman’s March in detail on every day of the march.  Trudeau and Gerry talk about the newspaper reporters who tagged along with Sherman and how the fact that they were unable to send their reports on a routine basis caused them to sensationalize some things in their large accounts of the event.

Gerry then asks the question I’m sure most listeners want to hear: How was Sherman’s treatment of the Southern civilians? Trudeau responds by talking about Sherman’s acceptance of “irregularities” in the march and his belief that Southerners needed to be punished for their part in prolonging the war. He believed they deserved this punishment and looked the other way in some cases as a result. Trudeau says Sherman believed “they brought it on themselves.”

Trudeau talks about whether or not Sherman’s actions broke any of the generally accepted rules of warfare. He also looks at Sherman’s decision to wage a harder war on civilians in an attempt to win the war. He believes the march had a major affect on the morale of Georgia’s soldiers who realized while they were away fighting no one was defending their homes and caused a rise in desertion as a result.

Another interesting topic was the discussion of Sherman’s attempts to convince Grant that the march is a good idea. Grant wanted to go after armies in 1864, and Sherman’s idea of destroying “the means of resistance” as Gerry puts it, was something he had a hard time agreeing to. This leads to a discussion of Sherman’s decision to pick George Thomas to lead the remaining Union troops in Tennessee to oppose any threat Hood might pose. Sherman was less than honest in telling Washington about the number of troops he was leaving behind, and this information was what finally caused Grant to give permission to Sherman’s operation. This later resulted in Thomas almost being relieved by Grant just prior to the Battle of Nashville.

Gerry asks Trudeau if the Civil War is the first total war.  Gerry does not believe so and Andy agrees.  He prefers the term “hard war.”  Trudeau gives Germany’s treatment of Russians during World War 2 as a true example of total war.  He notes the irony of Southerners’ hatred toward Sherman when Sherman was what Trudeau calls a “social conservative.”  He notes that Sherman does not imprison or otherwise harm Confederate government along the way.  He leaves the political infrastructure intact, even noting the Georgia state legislature is reconvened once Sherman reaches Savannah!  Andy and Gerry go on to note the lack of any executions of Southern civilians along the line of the march, and Andy believes a total of one civilian was killed during the entire operation.

Gerry points out that one recent book found that those directly in the line of march were even more fervent in their Confederate nationalism, while those just outside the direct line of march grew less willing to support the Confederacy.  Trudeau did not agree with this 100%, saying he found civilian opinions “all over the map.”

Gerry notes that many Civil War books are being written by non-academics, and asks Trudeau who his book is aimed at.  He responds with “everybody”, and a discussion ensues about the why the detailed daily account of Sherman’s March is necessary.  I thought Trudeau had a very good response to Gerry’s question of why the book is important.  You’ll have to listen to the review to find out exactly what was said.  I do want to note Trudeau’s belief that the March to the Sea and the March through the Carolinas are two very different events, and that too often generalizations arise about the two.

Civil War Talk Radio airs most Fridays at 12 PM Pacific on World Talk Radio Studio A. Host Gerry Prokopowicz, the History Chair at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, interviews a guest each week and discusses their interest in the Civil War. Most interviews center around a book or books if the guest is an author. Other guests over the years have included public historians such as park rangers and museum curators, wargamers, bloggers, and even a member of an American Civil War Round Table located in London, England.

In this series of blog entries, I will be posting air dates, subjects, and guests, and if I have time, I’ll provide a brief summary of the program. You can find all of the past episodes I’ve entered into the blog by clicking on the Civil War Talk Radio category. Each program should appear either on or near the date it was first broadcast.

Check out more summaries of Civil War Talk Radio at TOCWOC.

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