COLUMBIA, S.C. – We all know what Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman said about it later: “War is hell.” Earlier, a critical strategic objective of his March to the Sea was to persuade the Confederate home front of the truth of that statement, and to thereby undermine support for the continuation of the deadliest conflict in U.S. history.
In many ways, it worked, with many civilians back home less willing to carry on than the soldiers on the front lines.
On Jan. 28, historian Tracy Power will explore that point and others in a free lecture at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum in Columbia. The title of his talk will be “’Yankees All Over:’ The Effect of Sherman’s Atlanta, Savannah, and Carolinas Campaign on the Army of Northern Virginia.” He will deliver it at noon that Friday as part of the museum’s monthly Lunch and Learn series. Attendees are welcome to bring a lunch to enjoy while they listen.
The lecture will center to a large extent upon some remarkable letters written by a common Confederate soldier, Pvt. John A. Everett from Houston County, Georgia. He had joined “Houston Volunteers" in the first year of war and first saw combat at First Manassas. His father and brother had both gone to war with him, but his father had died of disease at Richmond in December 1861. His brother had been captured in the Wilderness in May 1864.
John himself had been wounded multiple times. He was still fighting in early 1865 when he heard from his stepmother Patience, at home in Haynesville with two small children. She was illiterate, but found someone to write letters for her to her stepson, and in one she complained that John and fellow Georgians should not be defending Virginia soil when "the yanks was all over Ga." She even went so far as to suggest he leave the ranks and make his way home.
He passionately rejected the idea. His view on the matter was reflected in more than 100 of his letters that survive:
(Y)ou stated in youre letter than you was now willing for me to Desert and go home you ought not to write any Such thing as that Supose all the Pepel at Home were to write to thair Sons in the army to Desert and go Home and they did so what would be the circumstances ["?"] why they could not feel like they had done thair Deuty as Soldiers.
For his part, that would be unbearable, he told her: To desert after fighting four years would be “more than I can bear on my Sholders. If Peace was made in Six months after I did so... why I would feel worse than a Sheep Killing Dog after I have Stade in this war 4 years and have bin in So many fights.”
He begged her not to “write any more Such letters,” and assured her emphatically “that I will never Desert." He told her he hated fighting as much as anyone, but "If I am Spaird to Survive this cruel war… then I can face any man and Say to him that I did my Deuty while in the Noble Armey of Northern Va."
Such dialogues between soldiers and their families back home were repeated many times over as Sherman made his way across Georgia and South Carolina, as Power will explain.
Dr. Power is an associate professor of history and college archivist at Newberry College. Growing up in Georgia, he visited the Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum and asked his mother about an image he saw there of Sherman. “That’s a bad man; he burned Atlanta,” she said. His studies over the subsequent decades have amended that overly broad assessment. For instance, he came to believe that Sherman saved lives with his approach to war, by avoiding pitched battles.
From 1986 to 2013, Power was a historian in the State Historic Preservation Office at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, where he was co-coordinator of the National Register of Historic Places program and coordinator of the South Carolina Historical Marker Program. He also taught American history at the University of South Carolina and at Midlands Technical College.
He is a past president of the South Carolina Historical Association and the recipient of the Alexander S. Salley Professional Service Award for Distinguished Lifetime Service from the Confederation of South Carolina Local Historical Societies. He has published and lectured on the Civil War, and on South Carolina history from the American Revolution through the Civil Rights Movement. His book Lee’s Miserables: Life in the Army of Northern Virginia from the Wilderness to Appomattox (University of North Carolina Press, 1998) won numerous awards.
In April 2020, Power was named Professor of the Year by the Newberry College Student Government Association.
About the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum
Founded in 1896, the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum is an accredited museum focusing on South Carolina’s distinguished martial tradition through the Revolutionary War, Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Vietnam, the War on Terror, and other American conflicts. It serves as the state’s military history museum by collecting, preserving, and exhibiting South Carolina’s military heritage from the colonial era to the present, and by providing superior educational experiences and programming. It is located at 301 Gervais St. in Columbia, sharing the Columbia Mills building with the State Museum. For more information, go to https://crr.sc.gov/.
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