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?
I believe I speak for many Virginians when I say that we are very disappointed in the Virginia Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission and its blatant exclusion of any recognition of the 32,000+ Virginians who answered the State’s call to take up arms in her defense and never returned home, or the thousands more who survived the war and returned to help rebuild the ruins of the State.
While no one denies that slavery was one of the main issues that led to the conflict and deserves a place in any discussion of the War Between the States, this commission has taken its original focus of inclusion, which we applaud, and twisted it so far as to make slavery/emancipation its main focus, in effect excluding any remembrance of the men and women who so valiantly defended Virginia.
Now, we could jump in and detail for this individual the extent to which Virginia’s Confederates fit into the many projects sponsored by the commission, but that would be a waste of time. Even a cursory glance at their website should be sufficient to satisfy most people that the memory of the Confederate soldier is secure.
If we take one step back, however, it is clear that it is not the lack of coverage of the Confederate soldier that is of concern to this individual, but the way in which the narrative itself is framed. First, notice the nod to the importance of slavery as “one of the main issues” that led to secession and war, but once the war begins it’s about the soldiers and apparently there is no more need to bring it up. What this individual wants is a narrative that celebrates the Confederate soldier along with his goal of an independent nation. The coming year is going to be a good one for those Virginians who find themselves imagining the possibilities of a Confederate victory. It’s going to be Faulkner’s “Intruder in the Dust” on a grand scale.
I guess it comes down to the question of whether the state of Virginia should commemorate the Civil War as if it hoped to become part of an independent Confederate nation or in recognition that the past 150 years – even with all its setbacks – was a better outcome not only for the generation that fought the war, but for us as well.
Last month I gave a talk to the Rhode Island Civil War Round Table in which I offered an assessment of the first full year of the Civil War Sesquicentennial celebrations and commemoration. I decided to work on it a bit more and I am pleased to share it with you in The Atlantic. It looks like I will be writing for The Atlantic on a fairly regular basis as long as my schedule can accommodate it. Last week’s review of the Gingrich novel was a huge success. It led to an interview on public radio, but most importantly, it is connecting me to a much broader audience. Thanks again to Jenni Rothenberg at The Atlantic, who has been an absolute pleasure to work with.
I truly appreciate that so many of you not only take the time to read this blog, but leave comments as well. You leave a lot of comments. All comments are moderated by me and I do my best to approve them as quickly as possible. I also do my best to respond to as many as possible. I may not go into great detail with my responses, but it is important to me to acknowledge your contribution to the site. Fortunately, I spend most of my day in front of the computer, but over the past few weeks I have been bombarded with comments. Something has to give.
While many of the threads function as a natural extension of the post more and more are moving much too far beyond the content of the post and in some cases involve nothing more than the hurling of mild insults back and forth. I am even growing impatient with certain contributors and I don’t like how it feels. I think what I need to do is find a happy medium between letting go of the discussion and directing it through the moderating tools that I have at my disposal. Don’t be surprised if I disable the comments feature every once in a while on individual posts and don’t expect that your comments will be approved right away if things begin to deteriorate between individual contributors. Perhaps a cooling off period will help.
Like I said, I thoroughly enjoy taking the time to read your comments. Thanks for your understanding.