General William Sherman of the Union Army made a hard push through the South in September of 1864, starting with capture of Atlanta, Georgia. Over the next seven months, General Sherman and over 60,000 of his men participated in what became one of the most infamous acts of the Civil War, Sherman’s March. (Glatthaar 1985, 7) Sherman’s March started as he and his men left Atlanta, heading for Savannah in November of 1864. Sherman eventually moved north, after Savannah, through South Carolina and North Carolina. The Union Army hoped to destroy the South’s physical ability to fight and weaken southern morale in order to end the war.
The scholarly work on Sherman and his men’s march through the South is abundant. Much of the research centers on the successful campaign conducted by Sherman to reach the city of Savannah in mid-December 1864. Upon reaching Savannah, Sherman offered the city as a “Christmas gift” to President Abraham Lincoln. Other works on Sherman’s March focus on incidents that took place in the state of South Carolina, mainly the burning of Columbia. Few, though, focus heavily on the march within the state of North Carolina, particularly beyond the battles that took place at Bentonville and Averasboro. Most scholars that focus on Sherman’s March, particularly within North Carolina, argue that Sherman and his men successfully destroyed North Carolina’s ability to fight physically and devastated citizens’ morale, which supported the Confederate cause. John Barrett’s Sherman’s March through the Carolinas argues that Sherman’s Carolinas campaign was the most important part of the march through the South. Barrett uses documents from Sherman himself to support his assumption, as Sherman discussed the importance of destroying Confederate resources in the Carolinas and undermining the Confederate morale on the home front. (Barrett 1956, VII, 280) William McNeill’s article, “A Survey of Confederate Soldier Morale during Sherman’s Campaign through Georgia and the Carolinas”, largely agrees with Barrett. McNeill shows the demoralizing effect of Sherman’s men as they marched right through the South’s heartland, which caused morale to drop, and eventually led to defeat. While other scholars have attributed the lowering of Confederate soldiers’ morale to the letters from women at home, McNeill attributes the lowering morale to military defeat in the South. (McNeill 1971, 18-23)
Scholar Jacqueline Glass Campbell, however, delivers a different view in her book, When Sherman Marched North from the Sea. Campbell provides strong evidence that Sherman’s movement northwards, and his harsh tactics, led to a revival of Confederate nationalism in some cases, especially with North Carolina women. Campbell’s argument offers an explanation regarding why civilians aided the Confederacy and continued to resist the Union Cause after four long years of battle. (Campbell 2003, 6)
Why Confederate soldiers and civilians fought the Civil War has been studied from a wide variety of angles. Prominent Civil War historian James McPherson looks at why soldiers on both sides fought in his book, For Cause and Comrades. McPherson uncovers that soldiers fought for a wide variety of reasons. Some for “abstract symbols or concepts such as country, flag, Constitution, liberty and legacy of the Revolution,” while others “clamored for a chance to ‘see the elephant’” of war, and finally to “do their duty to God.” (McPherson 1998, 21, 30, 72) Other scholars focus more on the issues of race and the South’s “peculiar institution” as a reason for support among Confederate citizens. Drew Faust shows in The Creation of Confederate Nationalism that civilians in the South supported the Civil War because it might have secured slavery in the southern states. As Faust argues in her book, “Leaders of the secession movement across the South cited slavery as the most compelling reason for southern independence.” (Faust 1988, 59) Other historians like Chandra Manning, follow a slightly different route in the reason for civilian support. Manning shows through the reelection of Zebulon Vance as governor that civilians within North Carolina supported the war effort to keep white racial superiority. (Manning 2008, 118) The reasons behind Confederate citizens and soldiers’ support during the Civil War were fluid, shifting as the war progressed.
This exhibit builds on the previous scholarship of Sherman’s March through North Carolina done by Jacqueline Campbell. The exhibit analyzes how Union accounts in North Carolina differed from the accounts of Confederates still in the state as Sherman marched through and what the march meant on each side. Union soldiers saw their actions as a matter of war to preserve the Union. Soldiers had to forage from local citizens to resupply the army properly, and destroy essential property, like factories, to defeat the South’s ability to fight. The citizens of North Carolina, however, saw the actions as personal attacks and illegitimate warfare. Union soldiers took food from citizens, leading some cities to near starvation., Union soldiers burned buildings burned that sometimes represented all of ones’ assets. The difference in opinion led many North Carolinians to renew their will to resist the Union. Evidence of such resistance from Fayettville, Goldsboro, and Raleigh demonstrates that Sherman’s March did not completely break the will of southerners to fight, further challenging much of the accepted historiography on Sherman’s March.
This exhibit shows how Confederate citizens strengthened their support for the Confederate war effort because the destruction by Sherman’s men convinced southerners of the faults in the Union cause. The reaction of North Carolinians came as a shock to some of the Union soldiers. Many saw North Carolina as a likely Union supporter, because it was the last state to secede and several peace movements occurred in wartime North Carolina. . The opinions of Union soldiers and Confederate civilians, however, remained consistent through an array of situations. Both sides maintained their beliefs through city occupations, during the course of a battle, and even as the war was neared an end.