Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The March

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The March

by E.L. Doctorow

The March by E.L. Doctorow
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2005, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2006, 384 pages

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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 November 9th. 

IV. The army will forage liberally on the country during the march. To this end, each brigade commander will organize a good and sufficient foraging party, under the command of one or more discreet officers, who will gather, near the route traveled, corn or forage of any kind, meat of any kind, vegetables, corn-meal, or whatever is needed by the command, aiming at all times to keep in the wagons at least ten day's provisions for the command and three days' forage. Soldiers must not enter the dwellings of the inhabitants, or commit any trespass, but during a halt or a camp they may be permitted to gather turnips, potatoes, and other vegetables, and to drive in stock of their camp. To regular foraging parties must be instructed the gathering of provisions and forage at any distance from the road traveled.

V. To army corps commanders alone is intrusted the power to destroy mills, houses, cotton-gins, &c., and for them this general principle is laid down: In districts and neighborhoods where the army is unmolested no destruction of such property should be permitted; but should guerrillas or bushwhackers molest our march, or should the inhabitants burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless according to the measure of such hostility.

VI. As for horses, mules, wagons, &c., belonging to the inhabitants, the cavalry and artillery may appropriate freely and without limit, discriminating, however, between the rich, who are usually hostile, and the poor or industrious, usually neutral or friendly. Foraging parties may also take mules or horses to replace the jaded animals of their trains, or to serve as pack-mules for the regiments or bridges. In all foraging, of whatever kind, the parties engaged will refrain from abusive or threatening language, and may, where the officer in command thinks proper, give written certificates of the facts, but no receipts, and they will endeavor to leave with each family a reasonable portion for their maintenance.

VII. Negroes who are able-bodies and can be of service to the several columns may be taken along, but each army commander will bear in mind that the question of supplies is a very important one and that his first duty is to see to them who bear arms. ...

This article is from the October 5, 2006 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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