Teaching Sherman’s March and Civil War Memory

I came across this short video today that focuses on a new historical marker on Sherman’s March that was recently unveiled in Savannah, Georgia. For those of you in the classroom who may be pressed for time this video can be used to introduce your students to some of the basic questions surrounding Civil War memory.  The video begins with Todd Groce of the Georgia Historical Society, who introduces the marker and the story behind General William T. Sherman’s meeting with Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and twenty African Americans who were asked for their advice about what ought to be done for the newly freed slaves.  It then cuts to Mayor Otis Johnson, who reads an account of how the black delegation, including Garrison Frazier responded.

Students can reflect on a number of questions surrounding the connection between race and politics and how the general public remembers its past:

  • Why is it important for your community to remember its past?
  • What kinds of events are memorialized in your community?
  • Do your monuments and other public historic spaces reflect the racial/ethnic profile of your community?
  • To what extent does the racial/ethnic profile of local government determine who and what is remembered?

There is an interesting camera angle that shows both the new historical marker and what I assume is a Confederate monument in the background.  Remind your students that the overwhelming number of monuments that can be found throughout the South were erected between roughly 1880 and 1940 and at a time when African Americans could not vote or run for office.  The dramatic shift in how local communities remember their past has taken place since the civil rights movement of the 1960s and could only happen as a result of increased voting rights for African Americans and their ability to run for public office.

What other questions might be brought up in your classroom?

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11 comments… add one

  • Arleigh Birchler Dec 15, 2011

    Good video, Kevin. Thanks for posting it. I was wondering whether or not they would mention the fact that the commanding general at Ebenezer Creek was Brig Gen Jefferson Davis of Indiana. He had quite an interesting career in Missouri and Arkansas, and while on sick leave and in Cincinnati. I suspect all of that would take the focus off the message, so it is probably just as well.

  • Rob Baker Dec 15, 2011

    Kevin I believe that is Madison Square, with William Jasper (Rev. War) in the background. I might be mistaken though.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 15, 2011

      Thanks. Well, it’s still useful.

  • Ben Heldt Dec 15, 2011

    I just visited Savannah, and one of the interesting things about downtown (the primary tourist destination, and where the new plaque is) is that all of the city planning for parks and statues there was done pre-Civil War, and as a consequence there are (so far as I know) no confederate monuments, plaques, street names, or anything else in that area. The new plaque commemorating Sherman’s field orders no. 15 is in front of the home he used as headquarters while he was there, and I expected that there might be a historical marker nearby resentful of him and his occupation of the city, but what I could find was pretty even handed.

    There is a major confederate monument in the city south of downtown in Forsyth Park, but it’s pretty sober. A somber looking soldier stands on top of a tiered column and near the base it reads “come from the four winds, o breath, and breath upon these slain that they may live”, and on the opposite side “to the confederate dead 1861-1865″. It was refreshing to see a confederate monument that honors the dead without going on about the Cause or the honor and glory the soldiers somehow won by dying. It seems like, for whatever reason, Savannah has never identified as a particularly “confederate” city, if its monuments and public spaces are any indication. In this respect Savannah seems like the polar opposite of Columbia, where historically the statehouse has been so proudly confederate and angrily anti-Sherman.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 16, 2011

      Thanks for the comment. Unfortunately, I’ve never visited Savannah, but hope to get there at some point.

    • Arleigh Birchler Dec 16, 2011

      Thanks for posting that, Ben. It sort of gave me a picture of the place. I hope to travel to Southern South Carolina one day for botanizing. Perhaps I will cross the river and have a look around Savannah. I served in the US Army for a short period (1964 to 1967). I do not know the exact reason, but it always angers me to see or hear anything claiming that a soldier died for someone’s “cause”. Trying to tie the death of a person to one’s favorite myth is despicable. That particular action is not limited to folks celebrating the Confederacy.

  • Dudley Bokoski Dec 16, 2011

    Seems like going off into the monuments issue is burying the lead. You’ve got a chance to dig into Reconstruction, how the post war period impacted the nearby Low Country and its culture, the concept of total war, and (as the speaker pointed out) the conflict between the Republican Party and Andrew Johnson. In a perfect world with infinite time you could use classroom time on the monuments issue, but history gets shorted in today’s classroom to begin with and there is only so much time to build historical literacy. Historical memory is worth noting, but in this case you’ve got such a rich number of places to go, I think I’d save the monuments thing for another time.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 16, 2011

      Great point. You could do any number of activities that ask students to reflect on why certain things get remembered and how that, at times, shifts. It doesn’t necessarily have to distract the class from focusing on traditional content. Thanks.

      • Dudley Bokoski Dec 16, 2011

        Growing up with a dad from Pennsylvania (his parents came from Eastern Europe thru Canada well after the war) and a mom from North Carolina, one of the running jokes in our family was when we would hit some small town on vacation with the obligatory traffic circle and monument my dad would say “Another monument to Yankee marksmanship”. It became a tired joke, but we always got a laugh out of it.

  • Billy Bearden Dec 16, 2011

    “To what extent does the racial/ethnic profile of local government determine who and what is remembered? ”

    IRONIC GREAT SPOT ON QUESTION !!!

    Mayor Otis Johnson, NAACP member, had city workers remove from City Council Chambers 2 historic paintings – both Confederate leaders – 1 Robert E Lee who oversaw Georgia Coastal Defenses, and a previous Mayor of Savannah, and both which hung for over 100 years.

    Mayor Johnson did not seek council input for said order, and when they were removed a huge poison “skull and crossbones” symbol was placed on the box.

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