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?

Silas Chandler Makes the Cover of Civil War Times

Civil War Times (February 2012)

I just received my author copies of the latest issue of Civil War Times, which should hit newsstands any day now.  As you can see Silas Chandler made the cover.  I love the fact that he is pictured alone and out from behind the shadow of Andrew Chandler.   It’s powerful.  Kudos to whoever made this decision.  What Myra Chandler Sampson and I tried to do in this short article was tell as much of the story from Silas’s perspective as possible rather than the mythical story that has come to dominate popular memory.  That narrative’s treatment of Silas as a loyal slave and/or soldier is little more than a self-serving attempt to ignore or minimize the place of slavery and race in the Confederate war.  He has a much more interesting story to tell if we are only willing to listen.

Myra and I want to thank Dana Shoaf and the rest of the editorial staff for their hard work and for their agreeing to take on this manuscript.  I have no doubt that their inboxes will be flooded in a matter of weeks.  I can already anticipate the reaction.  This is my third feature article in CWT in the last year and I have nothing but the highest praise for the work they do.  Finally, congratulations to Civil War Times on this their 50th anniversary.  Included in this issue are articles by Harold Holzer, Scott Patchan, and Jacqueline G. Campbell.  They also published an essay by Glenn Tucker on James Longstreet that originally appeared in their very first issue, which I think is a great idea.

The Future of Slavery

John Gast's "American Progress"

Much of our inquiry into history can be described as a metaphorical reaching back into the past.  We are not just looking for more facts, but a deeper meaning that somehow renders our own lives more intelligible.  Seeing our own lives as intertwined in the lives of those who came before us is at its root an act of the imagination. We often forget, however, that the people we study engaged in a similar act of the imagination by reaching out to those who would follow, including us.  I was reminded of this as I made my way through William G. Thomas’s excellent new book, The Iron Way: Railroads, the Civil War, and the Making of Modern America (Yale University Press, 2011).

As we all know, often our own need to reach back into the past is shaped by what we want or need to find rather than what the available evidence reveals.   Consider one of the most popular beliefs among Civil War buffs surrounding the future of slavery in 1860.  It comes in many forms, but at its center is the assumption that slavery was on a path to eventual extinction.  It’s pure speculation that is often wrapped in a desire to remove it from any  discussion related to the Civil War or from an underlying belief in the gradual progress of the nation as a whole.   In short, we need to believe that slavery’s days were numbered.

Click to continue

D.S. Freeman High School Reflects On Its History

This video was done by a couple of students at D.S. Freeman High School in Richmond, Virginia as part of a school wide discussion centered on whether they should get rid of their “Rebel” mascot.  The video offers a nice overview of the school’s history and includes a number of interviews with students and teachers.  Well done.

Why Did the Civil War Happen?

Wide Awake Films collaborated with the Virginia Historical Society to produce a four-minute visual experience of images, maps, footage and 3D animations that, together, convey an answer to the question: “Why Did the Civil War Happen?” This project is one of three pieces produced by Wide Awake Films for Virginia Historical Society’s “An American Turning Point” museum exhibit. The exhibit is currently open and will tour throughout the State of Virginia during the Civil War Sesquicentennial.