This weekend the Wade Hampton Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans will mark the anniversary of the bombardment of Columbia, South Carolina with a reenactment. The SCV hopes to remind local residents of the destruction wrought by the Union army. According to Don Gordon:
It’s important that we actually understand the true history of our city. We were fighting against the invading army that had burned every town that they came through.
The camp’s website devoted to the burning of Columbia reinforces their preferred narrative: “The responsibility for the burning of Columbia rests on the shoulders of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, commander of the Federal forces.” Of course, anyone who has bothered to study this event knows that there are any number of questions surrounding what took place on February 17, 1865. Continue reading
Apparently, somebody decided to have a little fun and steal the memorial marker to Sherman’s March located on North Clark Street in Milledgeville, Georgia. According to the story, it is not the first time the sign has gone missing. Perhaps the guilty party is attempting to revise the narrative. Actually, I suspect it’s a college prank.
One of the book projects that I’ve been anticipating for some time now is Anne Sara Rubin’s study of Sherman’s March in historical memory. The book will be accompanied by an innovative digital history project called Sherman’s March and America: Mapping Memory, which she is developing with Kelley Bell. The interactive maps allow users to trace Sherman’s march along a historical map as well as a fictional map that includes places mentioned in books and movies such as Gone With the Wind. The video above (and I suspect others) explores the popularity of Henry Clay Work’s song, “Marching Through Georgia” in the North and around the world. It’s really well done. I can’t think of a better example of the use of technology to enhance the traditional monograph format.
(video uploaded to YouTube on June 11, 2013)
There is a danger when we remember or imagine the past or treat historical actors as static or stuck in a particular moment as opposed to dynamic and forward looking. We make an implicit assumption that since we are preoccupied with a particular historical moment that the individuals were as well. The recent history and memory of 9-11 ought to be sufficient to reveal the mistake that is involved in this imaginative act. Roughly ten years later and a visit to the city suggests that New Yorkers have moved on with their lives. Think of the language we used in the immediate aftermath that nothing would ever be the same. Perhaps we build monuments and memorials because deep down we acknowledge the fickleness of memory. Continue reading
As a quick follow-up to yesterday’s post on Sherman and Civil War memory I thought it might be helpful to cite a passage from William G. Thomas’s new book, The Iron Way: Railroads, the Civil War, and the Making of Modern America. No image of Georgia in 1864 is more iconic than that of Sherman’s men destroying southern rails and turning them into what became known as Sherman neckties. The destruction caused by Sherman’s army almost always eclipses the rebuilding that took place immediately following the war.
Reconstruction of the South in this respect was literally re-construction, a fact long obscured in the era’s twisted history, which the white South remembered long as punishment and subordination, conveniently forgetting the generous terms of their restoration….
No railroad suffered more than the Western and Atlantic (what Wright called the Chattanooga and Atlanta) because of both Union army maneuvers across it and Confederate cavalry raids against it during the Atlanta Campaign in the summer of 1864. The Confederates tore up twenty-five miles of the railroad in a massive raid aimed at disabling the Union’s key supply route. And in an effort to cut off Atlanta from external communication, Sherman just before his November March to the Sea, “very effectually destroyed the road” and gave orders for Wright’s Corps to remove sixteen miles of track between Resaca and Dalton. Yet, after Sherman’s March was completed, Wright’s Corps went back to Atlanta and rebuilt nearly all of the Western and Atlantic, laying down 140 miles of new track and cross-ties, raising 16 bridges, and erecting 20 new water tanks. Close to $1 million in construction labor and $1,377,145 in new material were expended on the Western and Atlantic before turning it over to the state of Georgia and its original corporate officers in September 1865. (pp. 183-84)
According to Thomas, in less than one year rail service in the South had been largely restored. The book details the rebuilding that took place throughout the South toward the end of the war. I highly recommend it.