Hyperfocused account of General Sherman’s swath of destruction through the hotbed of the Confederacy.
While Sherman’s advance on Atlanta and subsequent March to the Sea is well-known, less well-advertised is his slog to Columbia, S.C., where his troops perhaps inadvertently but unapologetically burned down the town in what proved to be a spectacularly successful effort to demoralize the enemy. South Carolina native and historian Elmore (Columbia Civil War Landmarks, 2011) has thoroughly scoured the archives regarding these decisive few months of the Civil War, beginning in the fall of 1864, when Sherman continued his infiltration of enemy territory after the fall of Atlanta, marching to the sea in a display to “make Georgia howl,” all the while foraging liberally from the land, avoiding Confederate lures into battle and keeping the Rebel army guessing where he would strike next, Charleston or Columbia. Elmore evenhandedly reports on both sides of the conflict—e.g., he ably shows how Sherman continually instructed his confident troops in the art of foraging, which may strike modern ears as remarkably respectful in a time of war, yet he was also not averse to turning a blind eye to the federals’ urge for taking revenge on the “traitor state.” Sherman moved with astonishingly little resistance through the swampy land, turning railroad ties into “Sherman hairpins” and ravaging the countryside, keeping an eye on the prize: Columbia, the manufacturing and rail hub of the Confederacy. Abandoned by the Rebels, the defenseless city was taken and set ablaze on February 17, 1865; cheering blacks lined the streets to welcome the conquerors with plenty of liquor and food. Elmore also provides extensive appendices, including a chronology of events, organization of opposing forces and a short essay, “Did Sherman wish to spare Charleston?”
Comprehensive and densely detailed—too much so for general readers, but sure to please Civil War buffs.