Yesterday the New York Times published a piece by Alan Blinder on Southern memory of Sherman’s March and the new marker commemorating its 150th anniversary. The article pretty much raises the same questions about our Civil War memory in the South as other events during the sesquicentennial. The theme of the article is struggle. White Southerners are supposedly struggling with how to commemorate and remember Sherman’s presence in Georgia in 1864, but what emerges by the end is how little resistance there seems to be. In short, the author overstates his case.
No doubt, there are some people in Georgia who would rather ignore the anniversary of the event or put it behind them in the way that North and South Carolinians have done almost from the beginning. I suspect that most people just don’t care or have other things to worry about, which is certainly magnified as you interact younger Americans. Professor Cobb of the University of Georgia put it this way:
You all the time run into college kids who don’t know which side Sherman was on — and their parents and certainly their grandparents would be aghast to know that,” he said. “It’s not just a matter of education. It’s a matter of being the blank slate that younger generations present for revision or education that older generations don’t because they’re steeped in the mythology of their ancestors.
Memory of the Civil War simply does not function in the same way for Southern youth as it once did.
There has certainly been a shift in how the history of Sherman’s March is interpreted in Georgia and elsewhere. The events that I have followed over the past few weeks, including the dedication of this newest marker, reflect a more muted and detached approach. Book discussions and museum exhibits suggest that for those interested this past is something that can be explored without a rash prejudgement.
This is certainly not the case for everyone, but the most extreme voices have failed to make an impact. They blow steam on Facebook pages or meet up at their monthly SCV and UDC meetings. Their failure has nothing to do with a Northern/Liberal/Revisionist/Politically Correct invasion. This change is happening from within Georgia.
The history of Sherman’s March is finally becoming history.