By the Books: Augustan brings ancestor's Civil War journal to life in book


Karin Gillespie

The Augusta Chronicle

South Carolina needs to be punished. That was the thinking of the soldiers of the Union Army who believed the state was responsible for the Civil War with its rush to secede from the nation. Sherman wrote “… the whole army is burning with an insatiable desire to wreak vengeance on South Carolina. I almost tremble at her fate … but she deserves all that seems in store for her.”

As Sherman and his 60,000-strong army surged toward Charleston, surgeon Francis Marion Roberston fled the city with the Confederate garrison and kept a daily journal for the last three months of the war. Vats of ink have been spilled on the Civil War, but little has been written about the final months of the conflict in the Carolinas.

Augusta native and editor Thomas Head Robertson Jr. spent more than 10 years bringing his ancestor’s journal to life in his book Resisting Sherman: A Confederate Surgeon’s Journal of the Civil War in the Carolinas, 1865. (Savas Beatie, $26.95)

In the journal, the surgeon frequently quarterbacks military decisions, but most fascinating are his observations about the people and conditions he observes on his 900-mile journey. The book’s editor describes it as, “an account of citizens suffering under the boot of war.”

In 1865, Robertson left a comfortable and prosperous home in Charleston to travel by horseback or in smelly, crowded boxcars intended for livestock. He slept in rooms so filthy that his “dearest wife” would grieve. He writes, “One shudders as he gets into bed just as he would at the idea of a cold shower bath on a frosty morning in December.”

The people he meets frequently offend his gentlemanly sensibilities. He describes a woman in Raleigh: “She was a regular piney-woods sandlapper with three tallow-faced, bloodless looking squalid children. She had a respectable quid of weed in her mouth. This she freely masticated and ejected the juice with a genuine masculine grace.”

Details of ordinary life in an extraordinary time abound. Robertson laments that the only food he’s eaten all day is a crablantern – a crab-shaped pastry – and, because of the hyperinflation of Confederate money, he pays $115 for lodging and sees soldiers paying $40 for a bottle of apple brandy.

Resisting Sherman is a fascinating and personal look at one man’s view of the last days of Civil War and includes a prologue, epilogue, historical sidebars and photographs. (There’s even a recipe for crablanterns.) Roberston will be at the Augusta Canal Discovery Center on July 21 from 5 to 7:30 p.m. and will talk about the book at 5:30 p.m.