In 1864, after Union general William Tecumseh Sherman burned Atlanta, he
marched his sixty thousand troops east through Georgia to the sea, and
then up into the Carolinas. The army fought off Confederate forces and
lived off the land, pillaging the Southern plantations, taking cattle
and crops for their own, demolishing cities, and accumulating a
borne-along population of freed blacks and white refugees until all
that remained was the dangerous transient life of the uprooted, the
dispossessed, and the triumphant. Only a master novelist could so
powerfully and compassionately render the lives of those who marched.
The author of Ragtime, City of God, and The Book of Daniel has given us a magisterial work with an enormous cast of unforgettable characterswhite and black, men, women, and children, unionists and rebels, generals and privates, freed slaves and slave owners. At the center is General Sherman himself; a beautiful freed slave girl named Pearl; a Union regimental surgeon, Colonel Sartorius; Emily Thompson, the dispossessed daughter of a Southern judge; and Arly and Will, two misfit soldiers.
Almost hypnotic in its narrative drive, The March stunningly renders the countless lives swept up in the violence of a country at war with itself. The great march in E. L. Doctorow's hands becomes something morea floating world, a nomadic consciousness, and an unforgettable reading experience with awesome relevance to our own times.
At five in the morning someone banging on the door and shouting, her husband, John, leaping out of bed, grabbing his rifle, and Roscoe at the same time roused from the backhouse, his bare feet pounding: Mattie hurriedly pulled on her robe, her mind prepared for the alarm of war, but the heart stricken that it would finally have come, and down the stairs she flew to see through the open door in the lamplight, at the steps of the portico, the two horses, steam rising from their flanks, their heads lifting, their eyes wild, the driver a young darkie with rounded shoulders, showing stolid patience even in this, and the woman standing in her carriage no one but her aunt Letitia Pettibone of McDonough...
For a brief biography of Sherman, see this week's Quote.
The Savannah Campaign, more commonly known as The March to the Sea, took place between November 15th 1864, when Sherman's 62,000 troops left the captured city of Atlanta, and ended on December 22nd with the capture of Savannah. Sherman and Grant were in agreement that the way to end the war was to inflict a devastating defeat that would destroy not only the South strategically but break them psychologically and economically as well. To that end Sherman initiated a "scorched earth" policy throughout the march (which had the added advantage that it reduced the need for traditional supply lines).
The following is edited from his orders issued on ...
If you liked The March, try these:
It's 1897. Gold has been discovered in the Yukon. New York is under the sway of Hearst and Pulitzer. And in a few months, an American battleship will explode in a Cuban harbor, plunging the U.S. into war... This is history rediscovered through the lives of the people who made it happen.
A magnificent love story, Cold Mountain is the tale of a wounded Confederate soldier, Inman, who walks away from the ravages of the war and back home to his pre-war sweetheart.
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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