Over the course of this year, we’ll be interviewing some of the speakers from the upcoming 2017 CWI conference about their talks. Today we are speaking with Dr. John Marszalek. Dr. Marszalek is the Giles Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Mississippi State University, where he has taught courses in the Civil War, Jacksonian America, and race relations. He also serves as the Director and Mentor of Distinguished Scholars at Mississippi State and as the Executive Director and Managing Editor of the Ulysses S. Grant Association. He is the author or editor of 13 books and over 250 articles and book reviews. In addition to being named a distinguished alumnus by Canisius College, Dr. Marszalek received the Richard Wright Literary Award for lifetime achievement by a Mississippi author and the B.L.C. Wailes Award for national distinction in history from Mississippi Historical Society—the society’s highest award. He is presently researching a book on the development of the mythology surrounding Robert E. Lee and William T. Sherman.
CWI: What aspects of William Tecumseh Sherman’s Civil War career do you plan on discussing as part of your four-person panel on “Debating Sherman”? What, historically, have been the most popular topics of debate surrounding Sherman? What aspects have been overlooked or under-debated? In what direction is the current scholarship on Sherman headed?
MARSZALEK: The major discussion concerning Sherman’s Civil War career deals with his development of “Destructive and Psychological Warfare.” He believed that the best way to win the war, without having to kill or maim southerners, many of whom were his long-time friends, was to destroy Confederate property rather than kill people. Sherman’s reasoning and his implementation of war remains the most popular aspect of his military career. Modern scholarship has moved away from seeing Sherman as a vandal to trying to understand his warfare. Significantly, too, many historians are now writing books and articles about “gender” aspects of his destructive psychological warfare.
During the Civil War, both the Union and the Confederacy utilized art to convey their sentiments regarding different aspects of the war. Most Civil War enthusiasts often recall drawings and cartoons by Thomas Nast when they think about political cartoons of the 19th century. Nast drew numerous cartoons for the Northern newspaper Harpers Weekly, commenting frequently on the Confederate States of America, the Civil War, as well as the political corruption of the era. Nast grew in fame across the Union, but the Confederacy, too, had its share of political cartoons and drawings that criticized the Northern war effort. Though not very popular during the Civil War, Adalbert J. Volck created political cartoons that resonated strongly with the Confederate war effort and the Lost Cause following 1865.
Adalbert Johann Volck was born on April 14, 1828 in Bavaria, Germany. As a young child, his parents decided that their son should focus on the sciences, sending him to the Nuremburg Polytechnic Institute. During his spare time though, Volck spent countless hours with a group of artists where he learned the basics of drawing and etching. He moved on to the University of Munich, where he once again studied science but longed to further his art career which led to him making use of Munich’s art academy to continue to develop his skills. While in Munich, Volck participated in the rising political revolution in early 1848, causing him to flee Bavaria for New York City.
On June 27th, 1863, while camped at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Nadine Turchin, wife of Brigadier General John Turchin of the Army of the Cumberland, wrote an irate entry in her journal. “Really, I think that the commanding general should take me as his chief of staff,” she began, “or at least as his personal advisor.” She went on to discuss the movements of her husband’s regiment as they campaigned in the west, criticizing the orders given to him by his superiors that had resulted in several deaths within the regiment and offering her own take on how they should have proceeded. “Oh, uncivilized beasts!” she concluded, in reference to the army’s leaders: “They are dedicated to sacrificing this unfortunate army.”
As I have previously written on this blog, Nadine Turchin was an extraordinary woman. Not only did she follow her husband to war (and by some accounts directly engage in the fighting), but she was highly articulate and possessed an incredible intellect. A multilingual Russian immigrant from an aristocratic background, Nadine was a unique observer of the Union army. She kept a diary while with the army, written primarily in 1863 as a writing exercise so that her mastery of French would not decay. In it, she recorded her frequently scathing thoughts on a variety of topics, including the rights of women, the conduct of the war, and the state of the country. She also used it to record her wartime observations, and it includes accounts of both the Battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga, written from her point of view during the fighting.