In the Spring 2014 issue of American Heritage magazine is an article by Stephen Goldfarb, “The Scourge of War” in which he cites two new books, one called “Ruin Nation – Destruction and the American Civil War” by Megan Kate Nelson.
The second is “War Upon the Land: Military Strategy and the Transformation of Southern Landscape during the American Civil War“ by Lisa M. Brady. Both books were published in 2012 by the University Press of Georgia.
Goldfarb, in his review, says that Nelson in her book discuses four kinds of “ruination”: the impact of war on cities, houses, forests and soldiers. She discusses three cities that were razed during the Civil War. We know there were others including Atlanta and Selma, but she writes about Hampton, Virginia, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, and Columbia, South Carolina, citing an interesting fact about each.
Hampton was burned by Confederates to prevent the occupation of Federal Troops. Nelson says 500 buildings were destroyed including the oldest church in the United States at the time. Chambersburg was the only northern city burned by Confederate troops. This she said, was in retaliation for the “depredations committed by Sheridan’s troops in the Shenandoah Valley”.
Columbia presents a conundrum – both sides blame the other for its burning, even long after Columbia had been rebuilt. Nelson also writes about the denuding of trees, partially due to firepower, but also because of the use of wood by the “hundreds of thousands of soldiers who spent years living in the southern countryside.”
And as Nelson pointed out, the trees grew back within a generation, but the human wounds (and loss of life) did not heal so easily. Nearly 45,000 soldiers were left with amputated arms and legs. Such a sad commentary on a war that, had cooler heads prevailed, should never have been fought.
I will write about Lisa Brady’s book tomorrow.