Published 04/25/12

'Divine punishment'

"In the minds of many Southerners, the capture of New Orleans on April 25, 1862, by Union forces was more than simply a troubling military loss. It also raised the disturbing possibility that divine punishment was being inflicted on a spiritually wayward and sinful Confederacy," Thom Bassett writes in his latest contribution to the New York Times' "Disunion" series.

The loss of the South’s most important port and largest city was just the latest in a series of setbacks that "caused many across the Confederacy to wonder, in the words of the South Carolina diarist Pauline DeCaradeuc Heyward, if 'these reversals and terrible humiliations … come from Him to humble our hearts and remind us of our total helplessness without His aid,'" Bassett writes.

In a previous "Disunion" essay, "Sherman's southern sympathies," Bassett notes that "Sherman's relationship with the South makes him one of the most paradoxical and polarizing figures of the Civil War. He understood, and to a great extent embraced, the beliefs and values that led the South to secede. Yet of all Union generals he was the most viscerally opposed to the rebellion, causing him, as the war went on, to become the Confederacy's sympathetic, vengeful enemy."

Bassett, a lecturer in the Department of English and Cultural Studies, is writing a novel about William Tecumseh Sherman and the burning of Columbia, S.C., in February 1865.

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