‘Flames licking up tall trunks was striking and beautiful’

“For some of Sherman’s men, like Daniel Oakey, scenes of burning forests verged on the sublime. Describing the army’s advance into ‘the wild regions of North Carolina,’ he wrote,

” ‘The resin pits were on fire, and great columns of black smoke rose high into the air, spreading and mingling together in gray clouds, and suggesting the roof and pillars of a vast temple. All traces of habitation were left behind, as we marched into the grand forest with its beautiful carpet of pine-needles….

” ‘As night came on, we found that the resinous sap in the cavities cut in the trees to receive it had been lighted by “bummers” in our advance. The effect of these peculiar watch-fires on every side, several feet above the ground, with flames licking their way up the tall trunks, was…  striking and beautiful.’

“Despite the scene’s allure, however, Oakey concluded that the ‘wanton’ destruction was ‘sad to see’….”

— From “War Upon the Land: Military Strategy and the Transformation of Southern Landscapes During the American Civil War” by Lisa M. Brady (2012)


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