William J. McNeill, "A Survey of Confederate Soldier Morale During Sherman's Campaign through Georgia and the Carolinas" (1971)
In his 1971 article, “"A Survey of Confederate Soldier Morale during Sherman's Campaign through Georgia and the Carolinas," William McNeill looks beyond the obvious physical destruction caused by Union General William Sherman and his men, to the effect on morale that the march had on Confederate soldiers. McNeill points out that the march was designed to demoralize the South, as Sherman and his men marched right through the heart of the region. McNeill claims that Sherman was successful in demoralizing the will of Confederate soldiers, particularly those without rank.
To prove his argument, McNeill uses a wide variety of literature. He frequently quotes prominent scholarly books on Sherman’s March, such as John Barrett’s When Sherman Marched through the Carolinas (1956) and J.G. Randall’s Civil War and Reconstruction (1953). While McNeill does use many scholarly sources, he also mixes in an appropriate amount of primary sources from the era. The primary sources range from elites involved in the war, like General Sherman, to everyday Confederate women, like Mary Boykin Chestnut, who lived in South Carolina at the time Sherman marched through the South. By using wide amounts of sources, McNeill demonstrates how the physical domination of Sherman and his men destroyed the morale of most unranked Confederate soldiers. McNeill particularly demonstrates the continued decrease of morale in the Confederate Army of Tennessee during Sherman’s Georgia campaign.
In his analysis, McNeill dismisses the belief that writings from Confederate women on the home front played the most important role in desertion caused by Sherman’s March and the drop in morale among soldiers. This claim is hard to agree with. While an unstoppable advancing foe demoralized the army, Union soldiers also advanced through the homes and properties of the Confederate soldiers’ loved ones. It is hard to see how one can separate these two intertwined factors. McNeill’s dominant focus on the state of Georgia also takes away from the strength of his argument. He demonstrates how the success of Sherman’s men in Georgia had a negative effect on Confederate soldiers, but lacks detail when discussing the effect of South Carolina and North Carolina on the soldiers. A total of six pages, in a twenty-five-page article are directly addressed to the states of North Carolina and South Carolina combined. While McNeill provides an interesting article, his evidence to support his claim is lacking.
The men who composed the small remnants of Rebel commands brought together in an effort to stop Sherman's Savannah and Carolinas campaign realized the futility of their assignment; they knew that without help from other quarters Confederate opposition would only be nominal, and, when it became apparent that the Confederacy was just as hard pressed in other areas and no reinforcements of significance would be forthcoming, the Rebels without rank fought only for an honorable peace, which, it might be safely projected, the Southern combatants hoped would arrive with all dispatch.
The results of Sherman's campaigns during the last year of the war were numerous, but their impact on the Rebel without rank was singular: Confederate defeat. The invincibility of Sherman and his command had registered with the Southern soldier as a hard, excruciating fact, and the majority of the common Con- federate soldiers opposing Sherman's forces understood that further resistance could not be prudently pursued, whether for one's country or personal honor. The stage was set for the creation of a "Sherman myth," and, in the 1870's, one began to develop of which a portion, the invincible Sherman, has some basis in fact in so far as the results of the Atlanta, Savannah, and Carolinas campaigns are cases in point.
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