As a child, family tales and relics of my great-grandfather, a Civil War veteran of the 154th New York regiment, convinced me that General William Tecumseh Sherman’s marches through Georgia and the Carolinas were a noble freedom crusade and a freewheeling frolic. In other words, I was exposed to a northern legend of the two campaigns that largely cleansed them of their violence and destruction. In subsequent decades I gathered abundant letters, diaries, and memoirs by members of the 154th to chronicle the regiment’s role in the marches (and to correct my misconceptions).
Twice I attempted to follow the 154th’s route through the three states; twice I failed. But I remained determined to make the trip, to absorb the landscapes and to gauge lingering memories of the marches. Finally, in the winter of 2007, I drove 3,500 miles in six weeks in covering the 850-mile path from Atlanta to Savannah to Raleigh. Along the way, I collected scores of wartime, postwar, and present-day accounts, many of them embellished with legend. Here were myths of Sherman’s campaigns that ran counter to those I had inherited, with the general and his army as demonic barbarians who hastened the downfall of a glorious Lost Cause. I kept a journal of my trip illustrated with twenty-eight drawings of places where northern soldiers and southern civilians interacted. Here are four of them, with my captions summarizing their stories.
Mark H. Dunkelman is a historian, artist, and musician living in Providence, Rhode Island. Marching with Sherman (April 2012) is his fifth book on various aspects of the history of the 154th New York Volunteer Infantry, the Civil War regiment in which his great-grandfather served.