Sherman’s Memoirs Inspire Davis’ “Calamity”

Dan at the Bull Run Civil War Roundtable speaking on the battle of Bentonville
Dan at the Bull Run Civil War Roundtable speaking on the battle of Bentonville

By ECW Correspondent Pat Tintle

After sitting down to read the memoirs of Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman one year ago, Daniel T. Davis was sparked by the idea to write about the battles of Averasboro and Bentonville—two battles in which the general led the Union Army to victory.

The battles of Averasboro and Bentonville were fought on Mar. 16 and Mar. 19-21, 1865, respectively, in central North Carolina. Although eventually won by the Union Army, Sherman was not in favor of sending his depleted armies into another bloody fight.

“[I]n the uncertainty of General (Joseph) Johnston’s strength,” Sherman said in his Memoirs, “I did not feel disposed to invite a general battle, for we had been out from Savannah since the latter part of January, and our wagon-trains contained but little food.”

As a result, Confederate forces nearly destroyed an isolated portion of the Federal Army before Sherman salvaged the situation.

Sherman’s perseverance caught Davis’ attention.

“I was reading up on Sherman in general,” Davis said. “I was picking stuff up wherever I could and those two battles jumped out to me. The Carolina campaign is relatively forgotten; there’s not a whole lot out there on Averasboro and Bentonville.”

Davis’ curiosity has developed into the book, Calamity in Carolina: The Battles of Averasboro and Bentonville, part of the Emerging Civil War Series and co-authored by Phillip S. Greenwalt. The two writers have collaborated previously with their books Hurricane from the Heavens: The Battle of Cold Harbor and Bloody Autumn: The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864 and their Hallowed Ground article “A Scary Sequel: The Battle and Ramifications of Brawner’s Farm at Second Manassas.”

Throughout their years writing together, Davis and Greenwalt have formed a bond not only as workers, but also as friends.

“(Phill’s) been great,” Davis said. “When we first met back in the summer of 2006, I was working at Fredericksburg and we started hanging out and became friends. When Emerging Civil War started, I told (editor-in-chief) Chris Mackowski that we should bring Phill on and we went from there. It’s really a personal and a professional relationship.

Having graduated from Longwood University in 2005 with a degree in Public History, Davis worked as a historian at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park and Appomattox Courthouse National Historic Site, until he began writing for Emerging Civil War in 2011.

Calamity in Carolina will be Davis’ third book chronicling the War of the Rebellion, all of which Davis shares authorship with Greenwalt. But the Civil War is more than a recent hobby for Davis; it is a part of his life.

“The Civil War hits close to home,” Davis said. “I’m originally from Fredericksburg—there’s a lot of Civil War history in Fredericksburg. There’s a lot of Civil War history in Virginia. If you start in Fredericksburg, you can expand out in all directions. I started doing this with my dad when I was very young. We would go to Fredericksburg battlefield, we went to Chancellorsville and Spotsylvania, and it stuck.”

The battles of Averasboro and Bentonville may not appear in any eighth grader’s textbook, but Davis wants to educate readers on not only the battles of political importance, but also about the battles that have had a cultural impact on every American citizen who cherish his or her country’s history.

“(The battles) fit in the realm of culture,” Davis said. “But not so much the nineteenth century, but more the twentieth and twenty-first century. Averasboro and Bentonville are two extremely well preserved battlefield sites.”

Davis stated that there is good reason why these two battles have fallen into a historical limbo.

“Appomattox happens, and because the principle Confederate army had surrendered in Virginia, Bentonville becomes an afterthought for these men,” Davis said.

With the Appomattox victory, the Union army finally saw a chance for the war to end, but Johnston’s army still needed to be tracked down.

But while many historic sites have been the victims of modernization (including Fredericksburg), both Averasboro and Bentonville today are still reflective of the era in which the battles were fought.

“We don’t see that very often,” Davis said. “The landscape is relatively unchanged, there are private houses on the battlefield, but development has not encroached upon them, and that’s really impressive. That’s something we’re not used to—going to a battlefield that is, for the most part, pristine.”

The battlefields are two of the last windows into the world of the Civil War.

Calamity, says Davis, will be a useful tool for people looking through that window.

“We do the battles justice,” Davis said. “We bring those battles back into the spotlight of the Civil War community.”

3 Responses to Sherman’s Memoirs Inspire Davis’ “Calamity”

  1. Bentonville did appear in the news a few years ago:

    The Secretary of Cultural Affairs for the state of North Carolina, responding to a proposal to erect a memorial to Gen. Sherman’s army at Bentonville, declared Sherman was “more terrible than Ivan the Terrible or Genghis Khan.” Agreeing that there should be no monument to Sherman’s troops, the state commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans added “Monuments should be erected to heroes. These were no heroes. They were thieves, murderers, rapists, arsonists, trespassers.”

    “New Bentonville Battle Pits History, Memories,” _Raleigh (N.C.) News and Observer _, May 29, 1994, quoted in Mark Grimsley, _The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians, 1861-1865 _, New York, 1995, p. 1

    1. Interesting. The property on the Bentonville battlefield where the Joe Johnston monument now stands is maintained by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The effort to erect the monument to Sherman’s armies at Bentonville was led by the Sons of Union Veterans. It was dedicated on the 148th Anniversary of the battle.

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!