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‘Through the Heart of Dixie’: A history of how we think about Sherman’s March

‘Through the Heart of Dixie’: A history of how we think about Sherman’s March

Longtime readers of this blog know that I am a fan of Gen. William T. Sherman. It seems author Anne Sarah Rubin may not share my unqualified admiration.

Still, I enjoyed her book, Through the Heart of Dixie: Sherman’s March and American Memory, which I read recently. It is not a work of military history, but rather of a history of memory, looking at how different groups have remembered and portrayed the march. Professor Rubin makes the interesting point that to a surprising degree, “the memory of Sherman’s March has been conflated with memories of Reconstruction and the perceived horrors of one combined with the other.”

She notes that the Union soldiers in their memoirs, including Sherman, tended to emphasize the amount of food they found along their route — in the words of one, “chickens, turkeys and pigs, honey, butter and eggs, sweetmeats, preserves and wines.” In fact, she said, food ran kind of short as the Federal columns neared Savannah. This made me wonder if the retrospective emphasis on abundance was a way of faulting the Confederacy for conditions at prisoner-of-war camps — that is, you starved your prisoners while we found food readily available.

In a Faulknerian moment near the book’s end, Professor Rubin has travelled to Ebenezer Creek, just north of Savannah, to see where in December 1864 many freed slaves drowned as they tried to follow Sherman’s army. After crossing the creek on a pontoon bridge, the soldiers pulled up the bridge. A fisherman at the creek, hearing of her excursion, knew the place, telling her, “Oh, sure — there’s a spot called Dead Nigger.” It bothered me that I have driven near this creek numerous times — it is just west of I-95 — yet had never known its tragic history.

Photo credit: Bruce Tuten/Flickr