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Sherman's Sentinels

Because of the total destruction of the Southern railroads, many ex-Confederate soldiers had no choice but to walk home from Virginia after the war. Many of them had no idea what or whom they would find when they returned to their farms and homes in the Deep South. While they had been away fighting the war's battles, many of their homes and towns had been burned, and the entire populations of some towns and even whole counties had been uprooted and evacuated to unknown locations. Many an exhausted veteran, penniless and sick, arrived at his homestead to find only a blackened chimney, with no sign of family to welcome him or offer him comfort after his long ordeal.

Sherman always maintained that the destruction he waged upon unarmed and defenseless civilians shortened the war and saved soldiers' lives. His good intentions were unappreciated, however, by the victims of his ruthlessness. After Sherman's troops departed, there would be nothing left to support a family. Houses were looted and pillaged, farm animals not taken by the troops were killed, and any item that could be useful for farming or manufacturing was destroyed. Southern journalist Charles H. Smith wrote: "It wer in the ded of winter, thru snow and thru sleet, over creeks without bridges and bridges without floors, thru a deserted and deserlate land wher no rooster was left to krow, no pig to squeel, no dog to bark, wher the rooins of happy hoams adorned the way, and ghostly chimniz stood up like Sherman's sentinels a gardin the rooins he had made."

Successive generations of Southerners learned to vilify Sherman and loathe all Yankees. Said one North Carolinian about the war in which his sons were killed, his house burned, and his slaves set free, "I git up at half-past four in the moming, and sit up till twelve at night, to hate 'em." Southern children would reach the age of 16 or more before understanding that "damyankee" was really two words.

Fascinating Fact: The dollar value of the destruction in the South was staggering. The emancipation of slaves represented about $2 billion. Twenty-five years would pass before the number of livestock in the South returned to pre-war levels.

Photo courtesy The South Caroliniana Library
Written by Stephen T. Foster
Printed in USA
C MCMXCIII Atlas Editions, USA
D3 602 01-20