At the end of the Civil War, Union general William Tecumseh Sherman was surprisingly more popular in the newly defeated South than he was in the North. Yet, only thirty years later, his name was synonymous with evil and destruction in the South, particularly as the creator and enactor of the “total war” policy. In Demon of the Lost Cause, Wesley Moody examines these perplexing contradictions and how they and others function in past and present myths about Sherman. Throughout this fascinating study of Sherman’s reputation, from his first public servant role as the major general for the state of California until his death in 1891, Moody explores why Sherman remains one of the most controversial figures in American history. Using contemporary newspaper accounts, Sherman’s letters and memoirs, as well as biographies of Sherman and histories of his times, Moody reveals that Sherman’s shifting reputation was formed by whoever controlled the message, whether it was the Lost Cause historians of the South, Sherman’s enemies in the North, or Sherman himself. With his famous “March to the Sea” in Georgia, the general became known for inventing a brutal warfare where the conflict is brought to the civilian population. In fact, many of Sherman’s actions were official tactics to be employed when dealing with guerrilla forces, yet Sherman never put an end to the talk of his innovative tactics and even added to the stories himself. Sherman knew he had enemies in the Union army and within the Republican elite who could and would jeopardize his position for their own gain. In fact, these were the same people who spread the word that Sherman was a Southern sympathizer following the war, helping to place the general in the South’s good graces. That all changed, however, when the Lost Cause historians began formulating revisions to the Civil War, as Sherman’s actions were the perfect explanation for why the South had lost. Demon of the Lost Cause reveals the machinations behind the Sherman myth and the reasons behind the acceptance of such myths, no matter who invented them. In the case of Sherman’s own mythmaking, Moody postulates that his motivation was to secure a military position to support his wife and children. For the other Sherman mythmakers, personal or political gain was typically the rationale behind the stories they told and believed. In tracing Sherman’s ever-changing reputation, Moody sheds light on current and past understanding of the Civil War through the lens of one of its most controversial figures.
This dissertation will examine the formation of the myth that William T. Sherman laid waste to the state of Georgia in 1864, and almost single-handedly invented the concept of "total war." It will also examine how Sherman's reputation has evolved over the years from accusations of being a Southern sympathizer and traitor at the end of the Civil War to the modern image of Sherman as the destroyer of the old South. William Tecumseh Sherman was the most controversial general of the American Civil War. The modern image of Sherman is either a destructive monster who violated the laws of civilized warfare or a strategic genius who invented modern warfare. Both of these images have evolved over the years. In large part, they have been the product of Lost Cause writers trying to reinterpret the history of the war, but also the product of Union generals and politicians attempting to glorify their own place in the history of the war, men with personal grudges against the general and modern historians using Sherman to make their own arguments about contemporary society. The sources used for this dissertation were the journals, letters and memoirs of the participants. The Official Records of both the Union and Confederacy were examined as well as nineteenth and twentieth century newspapers and magazines. This dissertation will show that the modern conception of General Sherman is not the same as the historical fact, but rather a post-war creation. Individuals' agendas have created and sustained the myth of Sherman to explain defeat in the Civil War, justify later military strategy, condemn later conflicts and for personal gain. It is not enough to know that historical events as commonly understood are inaccurate; it is important to understand how and why these inaccuracies came about.
"On 26 May 1526, four Spanish ships under the command of Garcia Jofre de Loaisa passed intio the Pacific from the Strait of Magellan bound for the spice-rich East Indies. Six days later they were separated by a storm and one ship, the caravel San Lesmes, was never heard of again. Now, after a lapse of four and a half centuries, historian Robert Langdon has put forward the theory that the caravel was wrecked on an atoll to the east of Tahiti, that the crew survived and intermarried with the local women, and that over the next 250 years they and their descendants spread to many Polynesian islands. He claims that the castaways established Hispano-Polynesian dynasties, that they grafted elements of Iberian culture onto the existing Polynesian culture, and that much that has previously been attributed to the genius of the Polynesians, was, in fact, derived from Europe. ... Two of his most remarkable conclusions are that the mysterious inscribed tablets of Easter island owed their origin to the castaways' writing system, and that the so-called fleet that has ling been thought to have carried the Maoris [sic] from eastern Polynesia to New Zealand about 1350 A.D., was, in fact an expedition of sixteenth-century Spaniards trying to get home by way of the Cape of Good Hope!" -- Book jacket.
In the late 1800s, Southern evangelicals believed contemporary troubles—everything from poverty to political corruption to violence between African Americans and whites—sprang from the bottles of “demon rum” regularly consumed in the South. Though temperance quickly gained support in the antebellum North, Southerners cast a skeptical eye on the movement, because of its ties with antislavery efforts. Postwar evangelicals quickly realized they had to make temperance appealing to the South by transforming the Yankee moral reform movement into something compatible with southern values and culture. In Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause: Southern White Evangelicals and the Prohibition Movement, Joe L. Coker examines the tactics and results of temperance reformers between 1880 and 1915. Though their denominations traditionally forbade the preaching of politics from the pulpit, an outgrowth of evangelical fervor led ministers and their congregations to sound the call for prohibition. Determined to save the South from the evils of alcohol, they played on southern cultural attitudes about politics, race, women, and honor to communicate their message. The evangelicals were successful in their approach, negotiating such political obstacles as public disapproval the church’s role in politics and vehement opposition to prohibition voiced by Jefferson Davis. The evangelical community successfully convinced the public that cheap liquor in the hands of African American “beasts” and drunkard husbands posed a serious threat to white women. Eventually, the code of honor that depended upon alcohol-centered hospitality and camaraderie was redefined to favor those who lived as Christians and supported the prohibition movement. Liquor in the Land of the Lost Cause is the first comprehensive survey of temperance in the South. By tailoring the prohibition message to the unique context of the American South, southern evangelicals transformed the region into a hotbed of temperance activity, leading the national prohibition movement.