“Louisiana is a unique southern state” is a proposition that fails to raise an eyebrow. Whether one is thinking Cajuns, Creoles, New Orleans, Mardi Gras, jazz, or gumbo, one can quickly conjure an image of Louisiana that differs markedly from Mississippi, Alabama, or South Carolina. Yet, in January 1861, the Pelican State acted in a decidedly southern manner when it became the sixth state to secede from the Union.
As a child, family tales and relics of my great-grandfather, a Civil War veteran of the 154th New York regiment, convinced me that General William Tecumseh Sherman’s marches through Georgia and the Carolinas were a noble freedom crusade and a freewheeling frolic. In other words, I was exposed to a northern legend of the two campaigns that largely cleansed them of their violence and destruction. In subsequent decades I gathered abundant letters, diaries, and memoirs by members of the 154th to chronicle the regiment’s role in the marches (and to correct my misconceptions).