General Sherman’s March: The Shocking Campaign That Ended the Civil War
A&E Home Video, 2007, 94 minutes, $24.95.
William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea in the fall of 1864 has been the focus of countless books and studies for the past 143 years, and even today remains the source of vocal and widespread condemnation in the South and measured respect in the North. All those thorough treatments of one of the Civil War’s signature moments, however, have typically been delivered in a two-dimensional format, and have only left us wanting more. Now, thanks to a splendid new film by the History Channel, the horrors and deprivations associated with Sherman’s ruthless jaunt across Georgia, which all but tolled the death knell for the Confederacy, is given the 3-D approach it deserves.
Sherman’s March: The Shocking Campaign That Ended the Civil War mixes CGI battle re-enactments, scenes of scavenging soldiers laying waste to the Georgia landscape, and vignettes of slaves, women and soldiers on both sides with insightful commentary from leading academics. The actor who plays Sherman is particularly impressive in portraying the iconic Union general. At one point, while smoking Sherman’s trademark cigar, he looks directly into the camera and delivers his famous line: “War is cruelty. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.”
Although Sherman’s army clearly had the upper hand throughout the march from Atlanta to Savannah, the film notes that there were atrocities on both sides. In one scene an outraged Sherman orders Confederate POWs to clear a minefield after one of his soldiers has a leg blown off while crossing it. Sherman tells one prisoner to deliver a message to the Rebel high command that he planned to use POWs to clear every land mine en route to Savannah. The ploy worked.
The film addresses what one historian calls “the myth that Sherman was Attila the Hun,” a cruel destroyer with no compassion for anyone. The answer, perhaps, is shown in the film’s conclusion, with scenes of Sherman crying over the death of his child, as well as an incident long after the war, when he gave money to a destitute soldier. For anyone seeking to understand how Sherman’s “total war” forced the Confederacy’s ultimate surrender, this skillfully acted, thoroughly researched film will fit your needs.
Originally published in the February 2008 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.