by Paul Ashdown
- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. (July 28, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0742550273
- ISBN-13: 978-0742550278
Reading history is something many of us enjoy. The lives of the great or near great, political movements, wars, migrations all of these things are enjoyable reads. Reading how an event becomes “history” is different from reading history. There are no great moments or dramatic incidents, no bugles, no charging cavalry or great speeches. Instead, we have a newspaper reports, articles in magazines, speeches and letter. Taken together, these items determine our remembrance of the event.
This well written book is a history of how Sherman and the March were “garbled, huckstered and gilded”. This is a history of Sherman, the development of the Lost Cause Tradition and how the March clashed with the Reconciliation Tradition in the years following the war. Remembering the war, who writes the history and what is said, occupies much of America’s attention from about 1870 to 1920. A great deal is at stake, the people involved are very serious about what history of the war will say. Sherman’s March through Georgia is one of the crucial events of the war and all factions have much to say. The March, destroyed Southern resistance by showing how helpless the South was. Humiliating and destructive, it cut the heart out of the Confederacy breaking civilian resolve as it destroyed the infrastructure.
The book starts with a good discussion of the development of the ideas that lead to the March and the immediate it has impact on the war. After that, the book follows Sherman from the end of the war to his death covering his relationship with the GAR and the South. The South’s reactions to Sherman are complex and careful. While a major figure in the South’s defeat, he is a firm friend. During his life, this duality coupled with Reconciliation needs and fears of Reconstruction produces some odd reactions. After his death as the Lost Cause Tradition takes hold, coverage becomes more caustic. The death of the veterans makes things worse as the story grows. The South’s reactions in the early twentieth century are a revelation and show how the Lost cause tradition gained power as the generation that fought the war passed away.
Sherman and the March are great press. We have a comprehensive survey of them in print, song, plays and movies. Along the way, this helps us understand how we make “history”. That history is not a collection of names and dates but a shared remembrance and accepted ideas.
This is not an easy read. The authors write in a scholarly style that can make for slow reading. They do have the ability to illustrate some complex ideas and people with a few good sentences. Their presentation is as lively as the subject allows. I do not consider this an enjoyable book. I am interested in how the “history” of the war came into being and how it is changing. This is an excellent book on how Sherman and the March is seen and why.
Editor’s Note: Jim is a Top 500 Amazon.com reviewer.
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