In fact, Sherman’s superior, General Ulysses S Grant, did far more of the killing. Sherman burnt property and humiliated the South on their home soil. But a people that has given its all for a defeat that is too terrible to recall with clarity has nothing left but pride, and the wounded pride of the South has turned Sherman’s memory into a curse.
Southerners thought of themselves as an oppressed people, the descendants of Scots-Irish immigrants driven out of their Celtic homelands by the English, flying the X-shaped cross of Scotland’s patron saint in the Confederate battle flag, redolent of Scotland’s “Lost Cause”. The self-pity of the South pervades American popular culture, from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, to The Band’s bathetic song, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”. It is best known in the cover version by Joan Baez, an old civil rights campaigner. Such is the pull of identity politics.
With good reason, the descendants of Scots villagers expelled from the Highlands after the rebellion of 1746 may have thought themselves oppressed. Because they came from oppressed folk, their passion to better themselves burned all the more fiercely. When they set to build a slave empire, they could be stopped only by killing so many of them that insufficient numbers were left to form the ranks. The South fought on with redoubled ferocity after the twin Union victories of 1863, Vicksburg and Gettysburg, made Confederate victory improbable. Most Southern casualties, I reported in an earlier essay (More killing please!, Asia Times Online, June 13, 2003), occurred after Southern hopes had faded, and the South surrendered only after its manpower was too depleted to continue.