Remembering the “Men of God” in Sherman’s Army

This afternoon I was notified about another Kickstarter campaign, this one from the good folks at the National Civil War Chaplains Museum at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. They are hoping to raise $10,000 to preserve a flag connected with Sherman’s Army.

We are raising funds to purchase the only known existing U.S. Christian Commission banner which was with General Sherman’s Georgia campaign. Most notably, it was with him at his famous “March to the Sea” in the late summer and early fall of 1864. It also was displayed at both City Point and later Richmond during the spring of 1865. The funds raised will also be used to mount and frame the banner to preserve it for display as part of the Chaplain Museum’s “Climax of the War: The US Christian Commission and the Appomattox Campaign in the Spring of 1865” exhibit which is set to open in early March of 2015 as part of the US Sesquicentennial Commemoration of the Civil War.

It’s a worthy project if ever there was one, but does it have any chance of succeeding? Continue reading “Remembering the “Men of God” in Sherman’s Army”

“Forever Scarred By Their Service”?

In re-reading a section of Anne Rubin’s new book about Sherman’s March I came across a couple of paragraphs that touch on some of the concerns that I’ve expressed about the extent to which we have applied the lessons of recent wars to Civil War veterans. Rubin hones in on the dangers of doing so in regard to how Union veterans remembered the march and their interactions with Southern civilians.

Nor did they use memoirs or fiction to pour out their hearts and souls, expressing shock or trauma at what they saw or did. Today we are accustomed to stock war stories with their mix of crusty old generals, fresh-faced young recruits, and eventually the traumatized veteran, forever haunted by the things he saw and did… Recently, we’ve seen the twenty-first century version, with a host of new memoir s of Gulf War service. In April 2008, a Rand Corporation study announced that one in five service members who served in Iraq or Afghanistan reports symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression. We think that soldiers are forever scarred by their service, especially when they are asked to make war on civilians.

But what of their nineteenth-century counterparts? Analogies have often been made, albeit imperfectly, between the Vietnam War and Sherman’s March. James Reston’s 1986 work, Sherman’s March and Vietnam makes the connection most explicitly, arguing that Sherman was the metaphorical father of destructiveness and that connections can be drawn between the soldiers of the 1860s and 1960s. In Reston’s words, “the wanton violence of Sherman’s bummer and Westmoreland’s grunt differs as looting differs from killing, but neither time nor morals are static. Stealing the jewels from a peasant’s hooch in Vietnam would be precious little crime today. The patterns of behavior in both armies were encouraged by the official policy and extended the rules of permissible conflict in the same degree.” So, if Vietnam (and now Gulf and Afghanistan) veterans have been troubled by their service, and indeed, the vast majority of their writings seems to indicate that they were, one might be able to assume that Sherman’s veterans felt a similar sort of, if not remorse, at least discomfort. (p. 97)

According to Rubin, however, they did not. Perhaps as the author suggests these veterans remembered in a “celebratory fashion” because they were convinced that they had won the war. Of course, the same individual could just as easily exhibit symptoms of what we now call PTSD or struggle in any number of ways readjusting to life as a civilian. Again, my interest here is not in discounting recent attempts to apply the lessons learned in recent wars, but rather in remaining attentive to how we apply them.

Looking For Conflict Along Sherman’s March

I’ve said it before. Mainstream media can’t help but report a Civil War related story without resorting to the popular meme of an “unfinished war.” Americans are supposedly still fighting the war. This afternoon I caught this interview with Professor James Cobb of the University of Georgia, who discussed the history and especially the legacy of Sherman’s March. The reporter pressed him on explaining why the new marker placed by the Georgia Historical Society to commemorate the anniversary of the march is still so divisive.

Well, it’s not. Cobb correctly noted that while there may still be small, but vocal groups of Americans who are still upset about what Sherman did to their state most people have not given it any thought. Keep in mind that this breaking news is not coming from some transplanted Yankee carpetbagger. Just listen to that accent. In short, the placement of the marker that supposedly includes a “revisionist” account of the events of November-December 1864 is, in the end, not a big deal. It changes nothing for the vast majority of white and black Georgians.