Symposium Preview: Dan Davis and the Legacy of Sherman

Dan speaking on the Battle of Bentonville, part of Sherman's Carolinas Campaign
Dan speaking on the Battle of Bentonville, part of Sherman’s Carolinas Campaign

Daniel T. Davis, author of Calamity in Carolina, is ready to bring a fresh perspective to a controversial commander for the 2015 Emerging Civil War symposium.

Davis, the chief historian for Emerging Civil War, has co-authored four books in the Emerging Civil War series.

According to Davis, his interest in history sprang from his childhood memories with his father.  Growing up in Fredericksburg, the two enjoyed weekends visiting local historic sites. “That’s really how my Civil War interest began—it was just those weekend trips around the area with my father,” Davis said.

While Davis may have recognized his interest in history early on, it is not likely that he could have imagined the directions in which this interest would take him.

For the symposium, David will be addressing the legacy of William Tecumseh Sherman—one of the main characters of Calamity in Carolina: The Battles of Averasboro and Bentonville.  While the book discussed Sherman’s march through the Carolinas, Davis will take a broader look, discussing Sherman’s time as a commander and the implications his life’s work had on our history.

“Sherman is such a reviled individual through the South because of his way of making the war,” Davis said.  “I would look at the other side of the coin and argue that Sherman is probably a visionary.  Sherman is looking at warfare on a different spectrum—different from the commonly held views many of his peers believed in—by putting as many men as possible on the battlefield to kill the enemy.”

Fighting at both Shiloh and Vicksburg, Sherman was astounded at the amount of bloodshed he saw during his time serving.  In mid to late 1863, Sherman began to question the current war tactics of the time.  In doing so, Sherman transitioned from being the average field commander into a leader who effectively used his troops as instruments to attack enemy logistics.

Once Sherman learned to break up the logistics and strangle the South by destroying their supplies and ammunition, he realized that victory was a probable outcome.

Outside of Sherman’s life as a commander, Davis hopes to shed light upon Sherman’s upbringing, relationships, and struggles.  By understanding these often facets of this Union leader, attendees may come to new understandings of Sherman as a commander and individual.

For instance, Sherman was on the verge of suicide before the war.  He would also have to overcome the pain he felt from the death of his two children, Sherman rose to become one of the top three greatest Union commanders.  Davis believes that attendees may sympathize with Sherman and find inspiration in his story.

“He’s a bundle of contradictions but he’s brilliant,” Davis said.  “Sherman is a man who had lived in the South in the pre-war years, he loves the South, he has many Southern friends—but he’s willing to do whatever it takes to force the South to capitulate and restore the United States.”

Davis said he looks forward to providing attendees with a new viewpoint on Sherman. Likewise, he hopes to increase interest in the Civil War within his own life’s work—as he believes history is a vital part of our lives.

“Good or bad, we stand on the shoulders of the people who came before us,” Davis said.  “Whether you had ancestors who fought for the Confederacy, or you had ancestors who fought for the Union, that is the make-up of our society today.”

The symposium will be held on August 7-9 at Stevenson Ridge, in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

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