“Southern Storm: Sherman’s March to the Sea” is the first book by Noah A Trudeau and the second book on William Tecumseh Sherman that I have read. Trudeau has done an excellent job of writing what should be a popular history on an iconic event in the history of the United States, an event that has suffered at the hands of partisan revision at the hands of Southern “historians”. The campaign was brutal, Sherman intended to destroy any military asset in his path and he had his troops foraging to extend the supplies they brought with them. They took any horses needed to replace their worn mounts and destroyed broken down mounts and pack animals to prevent them from later serving the rebels. Did civilian homes burn? Sure some did, it was a windy dry day in Atlanta and Sherman was not going to risk his men fighting the spread of fires. As Sherman said to a complaining rebel prisoner, anyone that starts a war has no right to complain of the violence.
The book reads like the works of Cornelius Ryan. Ryan attended reunions of World War Two veterans for both sides to collect his personal stories. Trudeau had diaries. He had so many diaries that he was able to reconstruct the weather, he said he had at least six references to the weather from each day. What are future historians going to do? Will they be able to look at old Facebook pages and Twitter feeds?
There were a few disappointments in the book. The maps could have had a scale on them. I was often wondered were his lines separated by miles or tens of miles. “Special Field Orders #15”, forty acres and a mule, which could be the most controversial aspect of the entire operation was only mentioned in one paragraph. Without prior knowledge of the Special Order a reader would not have a clue what it was about from Trudeau’s work. Even though the subtitle was “Sherman’s march to the sea” I was a little disappointed that the narrative ended with Sherman in Savannah. Sherman and his Army of the West pulled up stakes and marched through the Carolinas and into Virginia, where is that story? The post march history was interesting but can be summed up simply, the north is proud of Sherman and the Army of the West for their brave efforts to shorten the war of rebellion and the south resents hearing about it.
It was a good read, informative and at times entertaining. I recommend it, as long as 550 pages of text with an extra 200 pages of index, bibliography, and muster rolls does not seem overwhelming. I was concerned about the length, it did take longer than usual for me to finish it but at no time did the book seem to drag or become repetitive which is sometimes a problem when an author has a point they want to make so badly that they are willing to beat it to death. This is not that sort of book but the sparse treatment of the benefits derived from the labors of the African Americans who left their “owners” and volunteered their local knowledge and labor to the Army of the West makes me wonder if anything else was overlooked.