Marching Through Georgia

Civil War Borg

Civil War Borg

Of the many events during the Civil War that are still remembered with animosity by some still today, Sherman’s March to the Sea is perhaps among the top items on that list. Today’s song is a Northern song commemorating that march, with nostalgia.

After the North had finally taken Atlanta from the Confederacy (as immortalized cinematographically in “Gone with the Wind”), the decision was made to split the confederacy and bring it to its knees. General William Tecumseh Sherman was tasked to employ a scorched earth policy to Georgia, creating a swath 60 miles wide and 300 miles long of barren land that would be unable to feed or supply any Confederate soldiers crossing it, and thus cut the Confederacy in two.

Bring the good old bugle, boys! we’ll sing another song
Sing it with a spirit that will start the world along
Sing it as we used to sing it fifty thousand strong,
While we were marching through Georgia.

“Hurrah! Hurrah! we bring the Jubilee!
Hurrah! Hurrah! the flag that makes you free”
So we sang the chorus from Atlanta to the sea,
While we were marching through Georgia.

The chorus employs a religious allusion that might not be obvious to a 21st century education. It talks about the Union Army bringing the Jubilee, a reference to the year of Jubilee from the Old Testament, when all slaves were freed and all debts forgiven.

How the darkeys shouted when they heard the joyful sound!
How the turkeys gobbled which our commissary found!
How the sweet potatoes started from the ground
While we were marching through Georgia

The first line of the second verse tells of the joy of the freed slaves, a direct link to the sentiment of the chorus, to the jubilee being brought.

The rest of the lines of the second verse are a glorification of the raiding and pillaging of the countryside. The turkeys gobbling tells about the sounds the birds and other animals made as the army seized and slaughtered them for food. The sweet potatoes jumping from the ground is an allusion to their seizing of all available crops, and either eating them of burning them.  In this glorified anthem the land are seen as jumping to feed the Union Army, instead of being taken forcefully from it.

I have an ancestor, on the Bennett side, who served under Sherman on that now-historic march. The family story I inherited tells of him being part of one of the raiding parties sent out on the flanks of the army — foraging to feed the army and deny that same food to the Confederate Army. While on a raid he ran into rebel fire and to avoid being shot he fell to the ground and rolled down the slope until he was out of range. His commanding officer, observing from the other hillside, made the “famous” declaration that my ancestor was one of his “best guerrillas” — and thus he earned the moniker “Morgan’s guerrilla” (Morgan being his officer’s name).

Yes, and there were Union men who wept with joyful tears,
When they saw the honor’d flag they had not seen for years;
Hardly could they be restrained from breaking froth in cheers,
While we were marching through Georgia

This verse is a tip of the hat to the Union soldiers who were prisoners of war with the Confederacy, and their joy at being released. Unsaid here is another of the grudges the war created — those from the North who complained about the poor conditions in which their prisoners of war were kept. And conditions weren’t always good. But part of that was the fault of the Union itself — whose blockade was trying to starve the South into submission through lack of supplies, which were not available for Confederate citizens or Union prisoners of war.

“Sherman’s dashing Yankee boys will never reach the coast!”
So they saucy rebels said, and ’twas a handsome boast,
Had they not forgot, alas! to reckon with the host,
While we were marching through Georgia.

This verse simply states that no boast of the bold rebels could overcome the fact of superiority of numbers for Sherman, in both men and materiel.

So we made a thoroughfare for Freedom and her train,
Sixty miles in latitude — three hundred to the main;
Treason fled before us, for resistance was in vain,
While we were marching through Georgia.

This final verse is the reason for the picture at the top of the post. Sherman’s army cut its “thoroughfare for Freedom” 60 miles wide and 300 miles long to stamp out Southern Treason. The boast of the song is an echo of a now famous statement from the Star Trek franchise: “Resistance is Futile.” Though in the Civil War it takes the more quaint phrasing “resistance was in vain.”


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