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Posted: July 22, 2014 10:00 p.m.

Memories of Sherman’s visit

This is the second in a series of columns in partnership with Georgia Perimeter College professors concerning the Civil War and its local ties to Newton County some 150 years after the war that divided America.

In an age before emails, tweets and selfies, pen and paper preserved the memories of The March to the Sea. Wartime does seem to encourage young people to keep diaries. Think of World War II’s The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. Or more recently in the mid-1990s, Zlata’s Diary recalled life during the Bosnian War.

When the students begin their research in a few weeks, diaries will be invaluable resources. That is because these documents are primary sources, basically eyewitness accounts of famous events, which help later generations comprehend them. These testimonials convey an immediacy even though their actual composition may have occurred years later.

“We have many of these sources available in our collection, as printed and e-books,” explains Laura Tartak, director of the Georgia Perimeter College library at the Newton campus. Our librarians will also collect sources for students to use in the library and create library guides for them to use online.

For the most part, primary sources are reliable, with the exception that first-person accounts can sometimes withhold information or misrepresent it. Today, of course, we would blog about the March that came to Covington and likely keep the digital record on our smart phones.

The Diaries

We can frame the March to the Sea through very specific diaries, beginning with the words of Carrie Berry of Atlanta, a 10 year old in 1864. She describes the hardships of war, the burning of Atlanta, and foraging that will become all too familiar to farmers in Newton County. On November 8, she writes: “We lost our last hog this morning early. The soldiers took him out of the pen . . . We will have to live on bread.”

Ten days later, Sherman arrives in Covington, where Dolly Lunt Burge excitedly watches the Union soldiers converge on her land: “like Demons they rush in. My yards are full. To my smoke house, my Dairy, Pantry, kitchen, and cellar like famished wolves they come, breaking locks and whatever is in their way.”

Sherman recalls a decade later that “we found abundance of corn, molasses, meal, bacon and sweet potatoes. We also took a good many cows and oxen, and a large number of mules.”

By November 28, the diarist Ella Clanton Thomas worries that “the enemy are near us,” and they were. Sherman’s troops had reached Burke County, where they had burned the Thomas’s crops and small buildings on the property. Soon, Sherman would be in Savannah where the diarist, Susie King Taylor, had attended a secret school for African-Americans. After the war, she wrote of her life with the Union troops.

The Memoirs

Memoirs are primary sources like diaries. However, they are longer, very detailed, and rather formal recollections based on official records. W.T. Sherman’s Memoirs came out in two volumes, the first of which was completed in 1875 and sold 10,000 copies, according to Charles Royster, the editor of the 1990 edition of the Memoirs. Ulysses Grant also wrote his well-regarded personal memoirs while very ill with cancer, and his recollections were published after his death in 1885 by Mark Twain. Robert E. Lee was approached by publishers, but he died before a manuscript was written.

The News Reports

Clay Hulet, a librarian at Georgia Perimeter College’s Newton Campus, has found that The New York Times did receive a lot of dispatches during the march. Local reports came from The Daily Intelligencer (Atlanta), The Atlanta Appeal, and The Covington News, whose reports to 1868 can be found at the Newton Public Library.

Regional newspapers in Richmond and Cincinnati wrote about the March to the Sea, while national coverage existed in Harper’s Weekly and The New York Herald, which featured a map of Atlanta on its front page.

Sherman was critical of reporters. In the second edition of his memoirs, he wrote that “newspaper correspondents with an army, as a rule, are mischievous. . . They are also tempted to prophesy events and state facts which, to an enemy, reveal a purpose in time to guard against it.”

The Pictures

Photography and drawings added a visual dimension to the Civil War. While we associate them more with the battlegrounds rather than the fertile ground of Georgia, they do provide another view of the conflict. Today, in our perspectives course at the college, we study visual artifacts. For 21st century students, literacy takes many forms including visual and archival.

Kathleen DeMarco is an instructor of English at Georgia Perimeter College.

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