Thursday, October 08, 2009

The March


E.L. Doctorow, The March (Random House, 2005, 2006).

Ingredients: Take Gore Vidal, John Steinbeck, Walt Whitman, and Toni Morrison. Add freedmen and women, common soldiers (some of them deserters and some of them prisoners), a clinical doctor and his assistants, a photographer and his assistant, an English journalist, plantation owners, some colorful generals, and Abe Lincoln. Blend. Pour into a narrative flow.

Follow Sherman's March from Atlanta to the Sea, through Milledgeville to Savannah (November and December 1864), into South Carolina (February 1865), through Aiken and Columbia and on into North Carolina (March and April 1865) , through Monroe's Crossroads and Fayetteville, Averasboro and Bentonville, Goldsboro and Smithfield, and finally to Raleigh and Durham. Absorb and digest.

The March is divided into three parts: Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. The swiftness of the campaign, with refueling rests, is remarkable. Confederate resistance in the first two parts is haphazard until North Carolina, when Sherman's columns are challenged by "the regrouped Rebel forces under General Joe Johnston, the one capable general they had." Doctorow's depiction of "Old Joe" Johnston is glowing. I enjoyed that, because he's the main focus of my doctoral dissertation. William Tecumseh Sherman comes off as a man tortured not so much by the war as by life. He spares Savannah, but is not particularly upset when Columbia, South Carolina burns (because South Carolina started the war). He goes out of his way to protect Raleigh, North Carolina, in the wake of Lincoln's assassination. Historically sound assessments and Doctorow deftly emphasizes them.
Overall, The March describes tumult well, the madness and also the magnifying lenses of war, specifically the American Civil War, with its enduring social and cultural legacies.

As an aside, Union Major General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, head of Sherman's cavalry, plays a ready made rogue in the novel, to some comic relief. He also happens to be journalist Anderson Cooper's great-great-grandfather.

Homer & Langley: A Novel (Random House, 2009), Doctorow's latest, just came out recently. It revolves around the Collyer brothers, who in "real life" died in 1947 as a direct result of their disposophobic hoarding.

11 comments:

the walking man said...

Oh how we could compare Sherman's march through the south to congress and its scorched earth policy of the present.

jodi said...

Aw Eric, I guess I gotta up my reading. I do love Toni Morrison, tho.

Charles Gramlich said...

This sounds like something I'd enjoy. Not being from Georgia, I might be able to handle it.

JR's Thumbprints said...

I've read a few historical novels in my time. Gore Vidal paints some realistic pictures of Lincoln and the Civil War.

I've heard of those Collyer brothers too (perhaps you had posted about earlier?).

Distributorcap said...

i love doctrow - i have to read the collyer book and now do a post

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