Five Things About Gen. Sherman That Make You Go “Hmm…”
GPB will air a fascinating new documentary Thursday night that offers a more well-rounded picture of Gen. William T. Sherman than that of the 100 percent Evil Outsider he’s generally regarded as ‘round these parts. Don’t misunderstand. “When Georgia Howled: Sherman on the March,” which airs at 8 p.m., doesn’t ignore the Union commander’s 37-week campaign here in 1864 that destroyed some 40 percent of Atlanta and arguably hastened the end of the Civil War with his brutally efficient “March to the Sea” in Savannah.
But the one-hour documentary — a campanion piece to the Emmy-winning “37 Weeks: Sherman on the March” segments that ran on GPB last year — digs deep into historical writings and plumbs the knowledge of modern-day experts at the Atlanta History Center, UGA, Clarke Atlanta and Kennesaw State University to examine Sherman’s tactics and abilities as a leader. “In the end,” the documentary which GPB made in conjunction with the AHC, concludes, “it was the most decisive 37 weeks in American history, forever changing who were as a natio
And love Sherman or hate him, you might be surprised by a few things “Howled” discloses about him:
- This wasn’t his first time in Georgia: The Ohio native went to West Point at age 16, then came to North Georgia on a military assignment in 1844. Once there, he “memorized the landscape” in ways that would serve him well in the Atlanta Campaign that saw Union forces invade Georgia from the Chattanooga area in the summer of 1864.
- He was an SEC man: Well, sort of. Sherman left the army in 1853 for a brief, unsuccessful stint as a banker. By 1859, he was back in a uniform in the South, becoming commander of a military academy in Louisiana. The Louisiana State Seminary of Learning & Military Academy in Pineville went on to become LSU (Louisiana State University).
- He always knew war was hell: “To realize what war is,” he wrote someone about the physical and psychological terror his “March” was imposing, “follow our tracks.”
- For awhile after the war, Georgia liked him just fine: By the end of the 19th century, opinion had turned on Sherman in the South, making him synomymous with the evils of war. Earlier, though, he’d been greeted by cheering “throngs” on return visits in 1879 and 1871, with many people apparently thinking he’d done “what he had to” to help end the war. One Atlanta newspaper even “jokingly thanked him for tearing down the old city to make way for a new one.”
- Grudge? What grudge? After the war, Confederate commanders, Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood and Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, feuded over who was most responsible for the fall of Atlanta, with each trying to enlist Sherman to his cause. When Sherman died in 1891, Johnston travled to — gasp! — New York City to serve as one of his pallbearers.