Friday, May 12, 2017

My Reading Life: The Burning: Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley (Heatwole)




Several times a year, I drive from southern Virginia up through our beautiful Shenandoah Valley to Pennsylvania. And each time, I always think about the devastation that occurred here a little over 150 years ago. 

Each time I picked up The Burning: Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley, I spent more time than I intended pouring over the maps Heatwole included and orienting myself to many of those places I know in this modern world. And with every reading, I would recall how many times I'd heard how much the Confederates hated "those Yankees" and could now realize why. Such terrible destruction.

Even when orders were given to limit burning to barns or crops, enough known of human nature tells me that there were those soldiers who were tender in carrying out the orders -- like when the soldier would tell the woman of the house that he had to set the barn on fire but it would be a small fire and he would leave immediately so she could put it out -- and there were those who sought revenge through greater destruction than ordered. It is the results of the latter which grieve my heart and make me want to know no more. Yet these women who had sole responsibility for their farms while their husbands or fathers were away in the war had more vigor and fortitude and courage and foresight than I think I have or would have.

The hardships endured by the southern families --and on the Confederate soldiers themselves-- are more than I think I could bear:
"We were repeatedly robbed . . . by the Federals during Sheridan's encampment around town. We had to do our cooking after dark, as the smoke from the chimney was an invitation for the enemy to raid our kitchen and larders."
"Our hearts ached at the horrible sight . . . our beautiful Valley almost a barren waste and we with an army so inferior in numbers as to render success almost hopeless.
"The Federals were consuming all the forage that time would allow, and the rest was being carried off or destroyed."
"By eleven the atmosphere was stifling with smoke; the livid flames, that shone in the early morning from river to mountain, were obscured by the increasing pall of darkness that rested on the once beautiful landscape."
"The Confederates were slow to move on this day, probably because many of their horses were breaking down. The Federals were destroying all of the forage within their grasp -- they burned what they could not feed to their own mounts."
And in the end, "Emergency rations were made available by the very government that sanctioned Sheridan's campaign against the Valley."

I found this new and interesting regarding the Mennonite church: "In those days it was the custom to let the Lord select new deacons, ministers, and bishops. This was accomplished by placing a slip of paper into a prayer book and mixing the book with others, one for each candidate. Each man selected a book, and the one who found the slip of paper inside became the new church official." I guess this method was drawing straws glorified.

The name Sheridan has left a smoldering distaste with me.



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