27941FW: Sutherland on Campbell, _When Sherman Marched North from the Sea_
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Subject: Rev: Sutherland on Campbell, _When Sherman Marched North from the
H-NET BOOK REVIEW
Published by H-CivWar@... (June 2004)
Jacqueline Glass Campbell. _When Sherman Marched North from the Sea:
Resistance on the Confederate Home Front_. Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina Press, 2003. xii + 177 pp. Index. $27.50 (cloth), ISBN
Reviewed for H-CivWar by Daniel E. Sutherland <dsutherl@...>,
Department of History, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
Sherman's March and the Women
This slender volume (barely one hundred pages of text) is chock full of good
stuff. Jacqueline Glass Campbell's goal seems modest enough: she wishes to
judge the response of southern civilians to Gen. William T.
Sherman's destructive march through the Carolinas, from February through
April 1865. She accomplishes her objective in fine fashion, and she does so
in the context of several interesting--and sometimes
controversial--historiographical issues. Not all readers will agree
entirely with Campbell's conclusions, but her treatment of the campaign as
social, rather than military, history provides several useful perspectives.
Campbell, an assistant professor of history at the University of
Connecticut, begins with two broad--and largely correct--assumptions.
First, she believes that the consequences of Sherman's campaign become far
more complex, than past military narratives have suggested, when viewed
through the eyes of all its players, both soldiers and civilians, both
blacks and whites. Historians must consider "racial attitudes, gender
ideology, and perceptions of the military as a cultural entity" (p. 3),
Campbell says, if they are to understand how wars are fought. Second,
Campbell believes that the impact of the campaign on civilians can only be
determined by treating the federal invasion as a penetration of
psychological as well as geographical space. Sherman's march was designed
to destroy the Carolinas physically, but also to wreck civilian morale.
Campbell wants to know how effectively Union soldiers accomplished the
Campbell begins with a brief narrative of Sherman's march _from_ Atlanta to
Savannah. Embracing recent interpretations of the campaign, she suggests
that the famous March to the Sea was not nearly as destructive as
traditional interpretations would have it. Also, and more to the point, she
uses this prelude to clarify her main interests and introduce her principal
historiographical conclusions. Her focus, it turns out, is not so much on
the entire civilian population as on women and blacks. While this is a bit
disappointing, it does enable Campbell to state more forcefully her
historiographical concerns. Most importantly, she challenges recent
interpretations of Confederate women bowing to wartime suffering and
deserting the rebel cause. On the contrary, Campbell says, Confederate
women-most especially "elite" white women-became even more devoted to the
Confederate nation as a result of their ordeal. Similarly, she challenges
the assumption that all blacks-especially slaves-welcomed or profited from
Union invasion. The relationship between white soldiers and slaves was
complex, Campbell admits, but in many instances, blacks were abused in their
person and property more severely than were rebels.
Finally, Campbell judges that Sherman, traditionally one of the great devils
of Confederate history, has been misrepresented.
Campbell pursues these same themes in tracing the more overlooked segment of
Sherman's 1864-65 campaign, the march from Savannah through the Carolinas.
She also adds an interesting observation about the Carolinas campaign
itself. It might be assumed, she says, that Sherman's invasion would have
been received differently in South and North Carolina. The latter state,
after all, was supposedly in turmoil by this stage of the war, splintered by
class divisions, high desertion rates among its soldiers, marauders prowling
at will, and public officials at odds with the central government. Yet the
notably poorer women of North Carolina, Campbell maintains, remained just as
loyal to the Confederate nation as the well-to-do women of South Carolina,
who would apparently have more to gain in the triumph of the Confederacy.
The women of both states, she explains, as in Georgia, found a common foe in
the Union army. "Moral outrage in the face of Northern behavior," Campbell
concludes, "could reunite a fractured population and engender a new
commitment to the Confederate cause." (p. 92).
Throughout her narrative, Campbell emphasizes the courage, spunk, and
durability of rebel women, who emerge as a much larger part of her story and
historiographical focus than do the slaves of the Carolinas. Far from being
the victims of war, these white women rose to the occasion, not only to show
courage in the face of physical suffering and emotional abuse, but also to
demonstrate their ideological loyalty to the Confederate nation.
Campbell also maintains that their gritty determination carried over into
the postwar years, when many ex-Confederate women showed themselves as ready
as any man to face the perils of political and economic reconstruction.
It all makes for a nice, concise case study with which to address a variety
of historiographical themes. Campbell offers a well-grounded account of
events, too. Her research in the primary sources, both published and
unpublished, is good. Her secondary research on the Confederate home front
could be broader-would even strengthen some of her key points-but it is
sufficient for her purposes. Where readers are more likely to pause is in
her interpretations of events. Perhaps her most convincing point-and
probably the most important one from her perspective-is the resolve shown by
Confederate women in the face of Sherman's invasion. This is a direct
challenge to recent claims that the Confederacy collapsed because its female
population ceased to support the war. One might quibble that Campbell is
looking at only a tiny portion of the white female population, and she does,
in fact, sometimes slip into unwarranted generalizations about all "Southern
women" (especially on pp.
93-110), but she makes a good case for the response of those women in the
path of Sherman's 1865 march..
The trickier part is to translate continued loyalty to southern independence
into devotion to Confederate nationalism. This has been a hotly debated
issue in recent years, the main sticking point being how to balance admitted
rebel concerns over state rights and local prerogatives against a genuine
identification with the nation. Being one of those people who believe
national loyalty was relatively weak in the Confederacy, I kept looking for
some knockout punch in Campbell's arsenal of evidence to convince me
otherwise. It never came. The connection is more asserted than proved.
She shows that Confederate women were "patriotic" and devoted to beating the
Yankees, and that they saw "a direct link between the survival of their
families and the survival of the nation" (p. 71), but that is not the same
thing as embracing a national identity. Catch them off guard, and these
people still would have called themselves Georgians or South Carolinians
before they answered to the label Confederate.
Another area I can imagine fair-minded people discussing has to do with the
"gender ideology" of North and South. I raise this issue with no little
trepidation, as I am even less knowledgeable about it than I am Confederate
nationalism. Yet my gut reaction is to think that Campbell has drawn too
stark a difference between northern and southern views of gender. There
were differences, to be sure, but I wonder if the criteria used by Campbell
can satisfactorily explain them. She states that an industrial, urban, and
middle-class northern society assigned more passive roles to women than did
a southern society based on race and deference.
These distinctions strike me as too stereotypical to be used with much
precision, especially when employed, as Campbell does, to explain the
reactions of Union soldiers to Confederate women. She assumes that these
soldiers responded as they did because they shared a universal northern view
of women. That seems a bit dicey to me. Campbell herself notes
distinctions between the women of North and South Carolina, so might there
not be differences between soldiers from Chicago and soldiers from rural
Ohio? And how did such factors as education and religion--which Campbell
does not consider--affect sectional gender roles? Again, I may be out of my
depth here, but such issues set me wondering.
Finally, some readers may question Campbell's interpretation of William T.
Sherman. As with the other historiographical issues she boldly tackles,
this one, too, has produced a recent flurry of debate. Campbell joins those
scholars who believe Sherman has been unjustly portrayed as a demon who
waged war on civilians and unleashed "total war" upon an unsuspecting world.
She also adds an interesting note to that debate by showing how our
impressions of both Sherman and the Confederate women his men supposedly
terrorized are intrinsically bound together: the image of Sherman as the
scourge of the South has required that the region's women be portrayed as
vulnerable and defenseless. I like that twist; it has a certain appeal.
Yet it may also have influenced Campbell's reading of the evidence
concerning Sherman. While I would not place him in the same camp as old
Beelzebub, it may be that Campbell has let him off too lightly by assuming
that if the interpretation of the weak woman is wrong than so, too, must be
the contrasting image of Sherman.
The factors that work against this conclusion are too numerous to sort out
here. Definitions of "total" war, distinctions between seveenth-century
dynastic/religious wars and nineteenth-century democratic wars, the gap
between military "policy" and its implementation in the field, the
evolutionary stages of Union military strategy, even the definition of
"non-combatants" are all part of the mix. However, it seems to me that
Sherman cannot be exonerating in the 1864-65 campaign without also
accounting for the reputation he had already earned as a practitioner of
"hard war." To be fair, Campbell acknowledges that Sherman is a difficult
man to sort out. Yet her insistence, on the one hand, that he waged a
perfectly traditional war, seeped in "prevailing ideologies of acceptable
conduct that illuminated nineteenth-century social values" (pp. 55-56)
stands in sharp contrast to her many references, on the other hand, to Union
soldiers who felt compelled to justify or explain away the army's strategy
of exhaustion. A more profitable approach to understanding why the war was
fought with increasingly destructive force--and not just by Sherman--may be
to recognize the fact that _both_ armies waged, in Jefferson Davis's words,
a "savage war," and accept it on those terms.
Let us assume that both sides were justified in waging war as they did, but
then let us try to understand why they did so.
Still, none of these reservations about a few of her conclusions should
detract from Campbell's achievements. Her book is well worth reading for
its insights on gender, race, and what she calls the cultural politics of
war. Her study of a single campaign, strictly limited by geography and
chronology, cannot be expected to satisfy every dimension of the complex
interpretive structure she has erected. It is enough that she has offered
new ways of considering those interpretations, and that, after all, is what
good books do.
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Scott L. Stabler
PhD Candidate Arizona State University
H-CivWar Book Review Editor
Grand Valley State - fall 04