The Magazine

Christmas Conquest

When Sherman's march through Georgia ended at the sea.

Dec 14, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 13 • By EDWARD ACHORN
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And of course, there is Christmas in surrendered Savannah. From the day of Sherman's arrival, a constant stream of former slaves--"old and young, men, women and children, black, yellow and cream-colored, uncouth and well-bred, bashful and talkative," according to one witness--passes by his headquarters, hoping to meet the man they see as their deliverer. Some manage to shake his hand. On a cold and windy Christmas Eve, presaging a rainy Christmas Day, the 33rd Massachusetts band serenades Sherman with sentimental tunes. When a clergyman asks Sherman if he may pray on Christmas Day for "certain persons," as instructed by the diocese, Sherman reportedly answers: "Yes, certainly, pray for Jeff Davis. Certainly pray for the devil, too. I don't know any two that require prayers more than they do." The general's sentimentality had its limits.

Christmas 1864 in America, the last such holiday during our nation's bloodiest war, was not particularly happy in many homes, North and South, that had suffered the loss of sons and sustenance. But General Sherman's Christmas makes it a memorable one.

Edward Achorn, deputy editorial page editor of the Providence Journal, is the author of the forthcoming Fifty-nine in '84: Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball, and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had (Smithsonian/HarperCollins).