- When Sherman Marched North from the Sea: Resistance on the Confederate Home Front
This slim, engaging volume combines gender and military history in retelling the story of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman's march, not to the sea, but his less familiar one north from the sea into the interior of the Confederacy. [End Page 232] Beginning in Savannah, his "Christmas gift" to President Abraham Lincoln, Jacqueline Glass Campbell follows this army through the Carolinas, ending with the peace treaty that Sherman negotiated with Confederate general Joseph Johnston. Each short chapter combines narratives, vignettes, and analysis in clear and often sparkling prose.
Campbell situates the main actors here—Northern soldiers and white and black civilians, men and women—within both geographic and psychological space, plumbing their actions and perceptions during and after the campaign. Her work joins a rich new body of work that challenges the classic separations of home and battle front, notably Joan E. Cashin's collection of essays The War Was You and Me (2002). Like these writers, Campbell finds the battlefront and home transforming each other, often in unsettling ways for soldiers and civilians alike. But she also strikes out on her own in ways that complicate the existing scholarly picture.
Each chapter clusters around a moment in the march, drawing on newspapers, letters, diaries, and memoirs from the principals. Direct testimony from slaves, however, is rare: Campbell more often draws on white sources to make sense of the slave experience during Sherman's march, especially to gauge racial views among the Union soldiers. Yeomen women and poor women are also largely absent, undoubtedly a result of the same dearth of sources. What results is perhaps an unavoidable lopsidedness. While this is clearly an effort toward a more inclusive look at the geography of war, the elite white perspective still dominates.
Campbell's narrative challenges a number of truisms about Sherman's march, many of which have been broached before—that Sherman was an unrelieved monster, that Union soldiers were self-conscious liberators, that the destruction was total and all-consuming. Her main target, however, concerns questions of gender, and the depiction of elite Southern white women in the historiographic record.
To begin with, Campbell asserts that Confederate women understood their role in the household and in the larger public world in a fundamentally different way than did Northern women and men. If Southern white women were curtailed in their movement in the public sphere, she posits, they were still judged vital actors within the Southern household, sharing an understanding of honor that they could passionately lay claim to as well. "When threatened by an invading army, they were more than able to respond with a passion worthy of both mothers and warriors"(13).
This assertion about gender relations in the South challenges thinking on the role of elite white Southern women. That Northern men saw them as [End Page 233] shrill, or unduly passionate, and that Southern men took pride and solace from that passion, is thus not curious: these women had an important role to play in sustaining Southern nationalism and in defending Southern honor, a role particular to their region, their race, and their class. This position—that women shared in a sense of honor traditionally understood as male—suggests that the insights of Bertram Wyatt-Brown and James M. McPherson are more widely applicable. Men and women, according toCampbell, "did not have two different and oppositional sets of values, but rather shared many of the components that comprised the will to fight"(73).
This will to fight, Campbell argues, did not unilaterally wane in the desperate last year of war. Revising recent scholarship on gender, Campbell finds the Union invasion often strengthened the resolve of the elite white women in Sherman's path, rather than leading to greater disillusionment with the Confederacy. "I do not suggest," she qualifies in the footnotes, "that [the conclusions of earlier scholars Drew Gilpin Faust and George Rable] are erroneous, but rather that...