Thursday, August 17, 2006

Southern Boy

I mentioned grabbing the Music Row book in a previous post - the other book I picked up that I'm working through now is Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865. Now, that's the Army of the Tennessee, as in the Tennessee River, as in the Union Army led by US Grant and formed primarily of volunteers from Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio and other (then) far western states. It's a pretty good book with a good description of the western part of the Civil War, including Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg and then on to Atlanta and Columbia. There's a lot of interesting stuff about the politics involved in the leadership of the Army with individuals campaigning against each other all the way to continually writing the President looking for command positions in the Union Army.

This is a weird thing for me. I was raised in a liberal household, went to a predominantly black school for the first five years and was taught mostly by teachers that thought John F Kennedy was a god. But I'm a southerner and was (and am) proud of that. So while I grew up believing that the South was in the wrong, that Abe Lincoln was one of our best presidents and becoming aware enough by the age of 10 that I no longer bought the "states rights" vs. "continuation of slavery" argument that Southern apologists used to excuse the war, I also grew up believing that 1 Reb could whip any 10 Yanks and that the only reason the North won was that they had the hardware and were willing to continue to pump 11 Yankees for every 1 of our boys into the South.

I was not alone in feeling that Robert E. Lee was a tragically heroic figure and the best general in the country (either of them) and Stonewall Jackson, JEB Stuart and Nathan Bedford Forrest could each have defeated an entire Northern regiment single-handedly (the role Forrest played in the formation of the KKK being conveniently ignored). Grant was a drunkard who only ever won because he kept throwing Midwestern plowboys onto the Southern bayonets and Sherman was, well, the Anti-Christ (I lived outside of Atlanta for a couple of years). So it is pretty bizarre reading a book that idolizes Grant as a great strategic leader (which he probably was) and Sherman as a highly intelligent, moral man who actually prevented a lot of looting of the Tennessee countryside before the overall Union policies changed.

What's interesting about it is while growing up in Nashville I learned a lot about the battles protrayed in this book but most folks are much more familiar with the eastern campaigns in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania - Bull Run, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Petersburg, Richmond, etc. - than they are the western and more southern parts of the fighting. Many historians believe the war was won (or lost, depending on your viewpoint) in Tennessee and Mississippi so it's a good read.

I'm just having trouble with Grant as the hero.


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