A rare and dramatic first-person account by a Union scout who served General William Tecumseh Sherman on his “march to the sea”
After his father-in-law passed away, Stephen Murphy found, among the voluminous papers left behind, an ancestral memoir. Murphy quickly became fascinated with the recollections of George W. Quimby (1842–1926), a Union soldier and scout for General William Tecumseh Sherman.
Before Quimby became a part of Sherman’s March, he was held captive by Nathan Bedford Forrest’s troops in western Tennessee. He joined Sherman’s Army in Vicksburg, destroying railroads and bridges across Mississippi and Alabama on the way to Georgia. As the notorious march began, Quimby became a scout and no longer experienced war as his fellow soldiers did. Scouts moved ahead of the troops to anticipate opportunities and dangers. The rank and file were instructed to be seen and feared, while scouts were required to be invisible and stealthy. This memoir offers the rare perspective of a Union soldier who ventured into Confederate territory and sent intelligence to Sherman.
Written around 1901 in the wake of the Spanish American War, Quimby’s memoir shows no desire to settle old scores. He’s a natural storyteller, keeping his audience’s attention with tales of drunken frolics and narrow escapes, providing a memoir that reads more like an adventure novel. He gives a new twist to the familiar stories of Sherman’s March, reminding readers that while the Union soldiers faced few full-scale battles, the campaign was still quite dangerous.
More than a chronicle of day-to-day battles and marches, The Perfect Scout is more episodic and includes such additional elements as the story of how he met his wife and close encounters with the enemy. Offering a full picture of the war, Quimby writes not only about his adventures as one of Sherman’s scouts, but also about the suffering of the civilians caught in the war. He provides personal insight into some of the war’s historic events and paints a vivid picture of the devastation wreaked upon the South that includes destroyed crops and homes and a shattered economy. He also tells of the many acts of kindness he received from Southerners, including women and African Americans, who helped him and his fellow scouts by providing food, shelter, or information.