August 2015 Civil War News Web Exclusive Book Review
Resisting Sherman: A Confederate Surgeon’s Journal and the Civil War in the Carolinas, 1865. Edited by Thomas Heard Robertson Jr. Illustrated, photos, maps, notes, appendices, bibliography, index, 192 pp., 2015, Savas Beatie, www.savasbeatie.com, $26.95.
It is a shame that Confederate Surgeon Francis Marion Robertson did not keep his diary for the entire war or that earlier diaries were lost. His clear writing is easy to read and understand. Surprisingly, his writing shows he had hope for victory right until the Confederacy collapsed.
That said, with a few exceptions, Robertson does not make any profound observations in his diary that covers the last three months of the war.
While any contemporary diary from the war is always welcome, I kept waiting for something that never showed up in the text — something that would make me say: “Wow! I wish I had seen that or heard that myself.”
That is not a criticism of Robertson or his descendants who preserved and transcribed the diary. It is just a fact that Robertson did not have enough experiences to make his diary outstanding.
While he sometimes came in contact with famous people, such as Gen. Joe Johnston, he does not offer his personal insight into their characters.
The surgeon just details that he reported to General Johnston in Raleigh; he does not mention how he looked or his mood just six weeks before Johnston would surrender all of the Confederate forces from the Carolinas through Florida.
Robertson did not personally see any battles though he sometimes heard gunfire. I wish he had been on the front lines at some major battles so his considerable descriptive skills could have been put to use.
Editor Thomas Robertson, the surgeon’s great-great-grandson, has helped alleviate the problem of the diary’s shortness by adding a lengthy prologue detailing the surgeon’s career and adding sidebars and photographs of places mentioned in the diary.
There are some gems, such as the surgeon’s disgust with swearing he heard: “How shocking on this sacred day [Sunday] to hear the terrible oaths that poured forth on all sides.”
Later he encountered a snuff-dipping woman from North Carolina: “She was a piney-woods sandlapper with three tallow-faced bloodless looking squalid children.”
Women’s habit of dipping snuff disgusted him. He mentioned meeting several such women along his 900-mile journey through the Carolinas.
While it may or may not be ecologically important, Robertson frequently chronicles heavy rain creating flooding problems. Whatever one believes about global warming, diaries like this often mention rain occurring for days, something that does not seem to happen much in the South in the 21st century.