While We Were Marching Through Georgia…

From the New York Times:

150 Years Later, Wrestling With a Revised View of Sherman’s March

ATLANTA — This city would seem a peculiar place for sober conversation about the conduct of William T. Sherman.

To any number of Southerners, the Civil War general remains a ransacking brute and bully whose March to the Sea, which began here 150 years ago on Saturday, was a heinous act of terror. Despite the passage of time, Sherman remains to many a symbol of the North’s excesses during the Civil War, which continues to rankle some people here.

Yet this week, Atlanta became the site of a historical marker annotating Sherman folklore to reflect an expanding body of more forgiving scholarship about the general’s behavior. One of the marker’s sentences specifically targets some of the harsher imagery about him as “popular myth.”

“ ‘Gone with the Wind’ has certainly been a part of it,” W. Todd Groce, the president of the Georgia Historical Society, which sponsored the marker, said of regional perceptions of Sherman and the Union Army. “In general, we just have this image that comes from a movie.”

The marker near the picnic tables at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum is the fruit of a reassessment of Sherman and his tactics that has been decades in the making. Historians have increasingly written that Sherman’s plan for the systematic obliteration in late 1864 of the South’s war machine, including its transportation network and factories, was destructive but not gratuitously destructive. Instead, those experts contend, the strategy was an effective and legal application of the general’s authority and the hard-edged masterstroke necessary to break the Confederacy.

They have described plenty of family accounts of cruelty as nothing more than fables that unfairly mar Sherman’s reputation.

“What is really happening is that over time, the views that are out there are being challenged by historical research,” said John F. Marszalek, a Sherman biographer and the executive director of the Mississippi-based Ulysses S. Grant Association. “The facts are coming out.”

(More at the link)