Sherman Sham Treatments in Georgia

The presence of Union General William T. Sherman in Georgia during the Civil War (1861-1865) has inspired many novels. These fictional tales, some obscure and others quite significant, focused on figures taken from the Atlanta countryside, in the spring and summer of 1864, or in the March to the Sea that followed, at the end. of the fall of that year.

Perhaps one of the reasons why these events attracted so many novelists is that the campaign and the march involved interactions between many types of people, including soldiers and civilians, northerners and southerners, Blacks and whites, rich and poor. Such interactions provide ample food for dramatic situations and fascinating characters, as the work discussed here demonstrates. Both individually and collectively, these novels reflect the tensions, traumas and social complexities of an invading force whose presence has caused enormous upheaval in the lives of southerners, both urban and rural, on his way.

Probably the first fictional account of Sherman’s march appears in the Joel chandler harris job On the Plantation: A Story of a Georgian Boy’s Wartime Adventures (1892). Harris’ semi-autobiographical account, taken from his experiences as a boy on Turnwold Plantation in Putnam County, includes a dramatic description of Union forces attacking the county and plantation at the start of the March to Sea. Perhaps the most curious novel dealing with the war in Georgia in 1864 is Goldie’s Legacy: A History of the Siege of Atlanta (1903), by Vermont writer Louisa Bailey Whitney. For the novel, Whitney was strongly inspired by that of her sister Cyrena Bailey Stone logbook years of war in Atlanta. The diary was revealed after historian Thomas G. Dyer at the University of Georgia discovered that this was a key part of the source of the history of the Atlanta community of “secret Yankees”, or Trade unionists, of which Stone was a part.

The most popular account of the siege of Atlanta and its aftermath is certainly found in Margaret Mitchell’s book Blown away by the wind (1936). The Atlanta Fire and protagonist Scarlett O’Hara’s efforts to flee the city make up some of the most dramatic sequences in the novel and its 1939 film adaptation. (Kentucky writer Caroline Gordon made battle of Chickamauga, fought in Walker County in 1863, the centerpiece of his novel No one will look back. Published in 1937 and so eclipsed by Blown away by the wind published a year earlier, it remains a critically acclaimed work that focuses on the plight of two families in Kentucky and Georgia.)

In in recent years, several writers have constructed novels based on the events of 1864 in Georgia. Cynthia Bass’s short novel Sherman’s March (1994) chronicles the Union Army’s journey through the state through the voices of three protagonists: a Union captain from Illinois, a young Confederate widow on a plantation near Milledgeville, and Sherman himself. Each character tells a third of the book.

Margaret mitchell

Two novels, the much appreciated by Daniel R. Burow The Sound of the Bugle: The Adventures of Hans Schmidt (1973) and John Jakes Savannah; or A gift for Mr. Lincoln (2004), take place in Savannah. Both novels recreate the turmoil in and around the city as the Union Army approached and eventually occupied it, and both focus on the experiences of local residents, black and white, who are forced to interact with the invaders from the North under various circumstances, some more hostile than others.

Two novels published at the beginning of the 21st century were particularly well received and are recognized as among the most successful and historically accurate treatments of the subject. Athens novelist Philip Lee Williams A distant flame (2004) is told from the point of view of native Georgians, many of whom experience conflict on their own land. EL Doctorow Walking (2005), told primarily from a Nordic perspective, focuses on the countryside in the southern half of Georgia and beyond. Very different in terms of character and plot, these novels complement each other. While both offer graphic and powerful battle scenes, Williams effectively portrays the battle from an individual soldier’s perspective, while Doctorow gives a deeper and broader sense of war as a phenomenon.

A distant flame

that of Philip Lee Williams A distant flame is about the struggle of an old man, Charlie Merrill, to make sense of his memories and his life. The novel received the Michael Shaara Award in 2004 for Civil War Fiction, and in 2005 was named one of the Georgia Center’s twenty-five best books by Georgian authors.

A Confederate veteran and small-town newspaper editor, Charlie is known nationally for his columns and books. Through alternate chapters set in 1861-63, 1864, and 1914, Williams’ novel tells a love story, a war story, and Charlie’s subsequent reflections on these events. The last chapter of the novel takes place in 1918.

A distant flame

A distant flame

The chapters covering 1861-63 follow the relationship between Charlie, who lives in the fictional town of Branton, Georgia, and Sarah, a girl from Boston, Massachusetts, who came to live with her uncle in Branton while her parents divorced. . (Branton is loosely based on Madison, where Williams grew up.) Their romance ends in 1864, when Sarah leaves for England to live with her father. Chapters set in 1864 recount Charlie’s experiences as a soldier and sniper with the Confederate Army as it retreated to Sherman’s forces during the Atlanta campaign. The remaining chapters, which take place in 1914, are told from the perspective of Charlie, now an old man, as he prepares to deliver a speech commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Atlanta. In doing so, he remembers his war experiences and his affair with Sarah.

Although the novel focuses primarily on the white inhabitants of a small town in Georgia, it also documents the social realities of the era in which they lived, including the institution of slavery. Williams shows a close relationship between the Merrill family and some of their enslaved workers, but he also points out that the lives of those enslaved were severely limited. As an old man, Charlie is convinced that slavery was evil.

Williams’ Civil War research never overwhelms the novel but provides a rich historical context. In an afterword, Williams describes how he studied the way the men and women of this era spoke and thought as they read letters, journals, diaries, and other accounts from those years.

A distant flame, with its believable, intense and realistic depictions of battle, conveys an understanding of the unpleasant and supernatural horrors of war, not only the violence and bloodshed, but also the conditions of disease in which soldiers often lived and died.


One America’s most acclaimed historical novelists, EL Doctorow offers Walking as his first work at the time of the Civil War. Focusing on Sherman’s march to the sea and his subsequent foray into the Carolinas, Walking won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2005 and the Pen / Faulkner Award in 2006. (Only the first third of the novel is set in Georgia.)

General William T. Sherman
Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

The narrative method in Walking recalls Doctorow’s most famous novel, Ragtime (1975), in that it combines historical details gleaned from meticulous research with an array of fictional and non-fictional figures, both soldiers and civilians. The stories of the various march participants are interwoven, demonstrating the varied impact of Sherman’s forces as they passed through Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.

Although no protagonist guides the novel, several important characters emerge: the slave Pearl, who follows the northern troops as they leave Macon; Emily Thompson, the daughter of a southern patriarch who dies as northern soldiers occupy their home; Dr Sartorius, a brilliant field surgeon from the North devoid of sensitivity; a British journalist; a photographer; and Arly and Will, two confederate soldiers without counting who switch allegiance from north to south and back again as the need arises. And, of course, there is Sherman himself.

Some characters are present in Walking From beginning to end; others enter for a while and are killed or simply fall out of sight. All of them engage in a continuous process of personal redefinition as their situation changes, especially following the war. For the characters in the South, the change often requires an adjustment to the destruction of their familiar world; they often become entirely different people, adopting behaviors they never would have envisioned before Sherman’s arrival. For the characters in the North, change often means facing personal successes and failures as the war progresses.

Doctorow describes the march as a loosely organized anarchy. Sherman has some control over the direction in which his troops move, but little control over their individual actions. (This is especially evident when the troops ignore his orders and burn down Columbia, South Carolina.) Sherman is the most fascinating character in the book. He desires greatness, wants recognition for his accomplishments, and feels neglected, especially when commanders blame him for a disastrous battle over which he had little control. While Doctorow could have paid more attention to Sherman in this novel, it would have violated his essential premise and narrative structure, which does not make any of his characters stand out from the rest.

The basic theme of Doctorow in Walking is that war is evil. It alters or destroys lives. It is a naturalistic force that destroys landscapes and nations. It rolls in chaos and discredit, and people, willingly or not, rush into it. Although the novel sometimes recognizes political and historical causes of civil war such as slavery, more often than not it portrays war as an event with little connection to historical causes and political movements.

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