Union and Confederate armies fought mostly on Southern soil. Southern civilians suffered far greater destruction of public and private property than did Northerners. William Tecumseh Sherman perfected total war by first waging it on the south Mississippi homeland of the Poore family before he marched through Georgia.
During the war, opposing armies carried away much of the farm produce of Mississippi. Soldiers destroyed the few fences that had not fallen down from neglect. Troopers carried off or killed 6 of every 10 farm animals in the state. Other animals often wandered away or fell prey to rustlers.
Miles and miles of trenches scarred the land on every battlefield. Shell holes pockmarked fields. Soldiers felled whole forests to provide timber to reinforce earthworks.
One of my colleagues at Boise State University has taken a look at the impact of the war on the landscape in her just released War upon the Land: Military Strategy and the Transformation of Southern Landscapes during the American Civil War.
Lisa M. Brady, associate professor in the Department of History at Boise State, argues that ideas about nature and the environment were central to the success of Union military strategy.
Brady notes that from the start of the war, both sides had to contend with forces of nature, even as they battled one another. Northern soldiers encountered unfamiliar landscapes in the South that suggested, to them, an uncivilized society’s failure to control nature.
The Union army increasingly targeted Southern environments as the war dragged on, Brady argues. Whether digging canals, shooting livestock, or dramatically attempting to divert the Mississippi River, the Union aimed to assert mastery over nature by attacking the most potent aspect of Southern identity and power—agriculture.
If this war on the land didn’t affect your ancestor during the war, it certainly did afterward as Southerners had to repair the physical destruction and rebuild their economy and society.