The Civil War is arguably the most interesting and enigmatic subject in American history. Even after rigorous study of the topic, it is difficult to fully comprehend the motives for the war. Part of this is because of the inherent complexity of the conflict, but it can also be attributed to the manner about which it is written historically. Much of the military history of the Civil War concerns itself with the broad tactics and strategies of the armies. Historians often focus solely on the command structure of the respective forces, and lump the soldiers under those commands in one group. An exception to this is Joseph T. Glathaar’s work, The March to the Sea and Beyond: Sherman’s Troops in the Savannah and Carolina Campaigns.
The title of Glathaar’s work is misleading – it implies that it is just another military history. Glathaar, however, examines Sherman’s march through the lenses of the common soldier, making the work more of a social history. Glathaar uses the diaries and journals of the enlisted men and junior officers to scrutinize their views of battle, their reasons for fighting, blacks, southern whites, camp life, foraging and pillaging, and the march itself. Glathaar makes it clear that he is not seeking to pass judgment on the participants of one of the most controversial military campaigns in history:
My objective, however, is neither to condemn nor condone the behavior of Sherman and his men. As I see it, my job is not to cast moral judgment upon the conduct of others; rather, it is to ascertain exactly what they did and understand why they did it.
Glathaar introduces the subject with a brief overview of the political and military situation in early 1864. The Army of the Potomac had experienced a series of military defeats, and President Lincoln had lost faith in several of his highest military commanders, resulting in their termination. Most notable among these was General McClellan, who accepted the Democratic nomination for President in 1864. It appeared as though the failures of the Army of the Potomac would essentially take the Presidency away from the Republicans until General Sherman’s successful Atlanta campaign. Therefore, the March to the Sea was not only strategically important in a military sense; its success or failure could determine the political leadership o...
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...olina Campaigns certainly has historiographical merit. Glathaar offers a fascinating work that succeeds in entertaining and educating the reader. Through his extensive research on the pervasive attitudes of Sherman’s soldiers, Glathaar’s work humanizes the army and enlightens the reader. The sheer complexity of the war becomes apparent through the work, yet certainly gives the reader a greater understanding of the greatest conflict in American history.
1. Barrett, John G. “The March to the Sea and Beyond: Sherman’s Troops in the Savannah and Carolina Campaigns.” The American Historical Review 91, no. 2 (1986): 469.
2. For Cause and Conflict.” Civil War Book Review. n.d., <http://www.civilwarbookreview.com> (5 December 2000).
3. Glathaar, Joseph T. The March to the Sea and Beyond: Sherman’s Troops in the Savannah and Carolina Campaigns. New York: New York University Press. 1985.
4. Hubbell, John T. “Atlanta to the Sea.” Reviews in American History. 14, no. 3 (1986): 377-381.
5. McMurry, Richard M. “The March to the Sea and Beyond: Sherman’s Troops in the Savannah and Carolina Campaigns.” The Journal of Southern History. 52, no. 3 (1986): 468.
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