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.