Five Minutes with Karen Stokes, author of "South Carolina Civilians in Sherman's Path"

jpaprocki@islandpacket.comJune 29, 2012 

  • "South Carolina Civilians in Sherman's Path" is available for purchase at

Gen. William T. Sherman's destructive march through Georgia and South Carolina has been well documented. But often it gets told through the eyes of the military men. In Karen Stokes' new book, it gets told through the eyes of those who witnessed the Army's wrath.

"South Carolina Civilians in Sherman's Path" is culled from accounts of residents who encountered Union troops.

Stokes, an archivist at the South Carolina Historical Society, explains how she encountered Sherman's march.

Question. How did this book come about?

Answer. I've worked with the manuscript collection (at the historical society) for more than 15 years. I come across a lot of letters, diaries, documents. The ones I find most interesting come from the 1860s. They're rather scattered in newspapers or bunches of letters. So, in this case, I decided to collect certain ones together and add context for this book.

Q. The book is told primarily in the words of the people of that time. Why did you take that approach?

A. I wanted to give them a chance to tell their story. A lot of the books about Sherman are military history. I wanted to tell it in more detail and let the people speak through their own words.

Q. Are there any particular stories that stand out to you?

A. The story of the Rev. John Bachman. He was a Lutheran clergyman from Charleston. He was in Cheraw at the time. He wrote a very long, very detailed letter about what happened to him. The Rev. Bachman was beaten by a particularly brutal soldier, so much so that one of his arms was paralyzed for the rest of his life. Interestingly, a few months later he came across some prisoners of war. One of the prisoners was the man who beat him. These militia men were outraged, thirsting for revenge, as he put it. They wanted him to see if he could find the man who beat him. He went among the prisoners, and he saw the man. The man basically begged for mercy. The Rev. Bachman decided to show him mercy. He didn't identify him. If he had, the man probably would have been executed on the spot.

Q. Did you find much correspondence regarding Beaufort during this time?

A. Beaufort came under Union control fairly early in the war. But there is a story about McPhersonville. McPhersonville was fairly close to Beaufort. It was virtually wiped off the map. Before the war, it was basically a resort for the planters of the Prince William Parish in the Beaufort District. It was burned to the ground. All that was left standing were two houses and a church.

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