Sherman's March and America: Mapping Memory
December 21, 2010 10:34 AM   Subscribe

Sherman's March and America is a digital representation of historian Anne Sarah Rubin's project on how Americans have remembered General William Tecumseh Sherman's March to the Sea in 1864. The funnest part are the interactive maps. Clicking on the yellow-highlighted pins opens up a video exploring the significance of that spot on the map. Each map represents a different genre of memories of the march (civilian, soldiers, fiction, etc). My favorite is the narrative of the events in Milledgeville, Georgia on the Soldiers Map, featuring plastic toy soldiers and burning cardboard buildings.
posted by marxchivist (16 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Not to co-opt the thread, but this documentary (Netflix streaming) won't teach you much about Sherman's march, but it's a lot of fun.
posted by roll truck roll at 10:36 AM on December 21, 2010

“Every attempt to make war easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster”

posted by clavdivs at 10:48 AM on December 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Yeah, nothing says fun quite like a "scorched earth campaign" does.
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 12:12 PM on December 21, 2010

Fun fact: when Union troops burned the campus of the University of Alabama, a single book was saved from the library: a copy of the Koran.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:13 PM on December 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

You know, given that there's been celebrations of the Slaveowner's Rebellion and the Antebellum South recently, I think it's only right that today there should be a nostalgic celebration of Sherman's March. It's not political or anything, just a celebration of tradition.

So let's get some union uniforms on, and rustle some chickens and horses!
posted by happyroach at 12:16 PM on December 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

Fun fact: when Union troops burned the campus of the University of Alabama, a single book was saved from the library: a copy of the Koran.

Clearly a sign of divine grace!
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:39 PM on December 21, 2010

Yeah, nothing says fun quite like a "scorched earth campaign" does.

I'd rather have a "fun" website remembering and trying to make sense of Sherman's deeds than no memory at all.
posted by blucevalo at 12:53 PM on December 21, 2010

"It is well that war is so terrible. Otherwise we would grow fond of it." - Robert E. Lee
posted by imneuromancer at 1:21 PM on December 21, 2010

The whole "fun" thing is roll truck roll referring to this movie, which is fun. I don't think anyone is calling the Civil War or Sherman's March "fun." Although the website is kind of fun, I think.

Oh, and....

"We cannot change the hearts and minds of those people of the South, but we can make war so terrible ... [and] make them so sick of war that generations would pass away before they would again appeal to it." - William T. Sherman
posted by marxchivist at 1:32 PM on December 21, 2010

'I have never advocated war except as a means of peace.'

-Ulysses S. Grant
posted by clavdivs at 2:20 PM on December 21, 2010

The Shenedoah Valley in Virginia was equally devastated by the Union Campaign against the Southern economy. These were war crimes under the modern definition and it isn't clear if they really broke the southern resistance or were just cold blooded criminal acts. The resulting damage to non-slave owning property owners has never been forgotten. The Yankee celebration of these crimes is a huge driver of southern victimhood and why many still refer to it as the war of northern aggression.
posted by humanfont at 5:43 PM on December 21, 2010

“No damn man kills me and lives.”

-Nathan Bedford Forrest
posted by clavdivs at 6:02 PM on December 21, 2010

This is a way-cool FFP -- thanx. Anne Sarah Rubin was involved in the Valley of the Shadow project as a grad student at U Va[1]. Here's a post of hers on Digitizing Sherman’s March, from 2008.

The resulting damage to non-slave owning property owners has never been forgotten. The Yankee celebration of these crimes is a huge driver of southern victimhood and why many still refer to it as the war of northern aggression.

'Couple-three points:

For the most part, the distinction between the slave-owning and non slave-owning property owners is not made in the resentment-holders' memory. It may be alluded to as part of the "most Southerners didn't own slaves" argument against singling out Slavery as The Reason for the American Civil War, but those memories are held as part of a very complicated mosaic of resentment (often held by the losers of confrontations -- fewer people hold grudges over battles that they've won than over battles they've lost). For example, there is a commensurate resentment towards General George H. Thomas, but it's more clearly because of his effectiveness than any particular list of actions.

Secondly, it should be kept in mind that many of these "memories" are false. Just because something didn't actually happen doesn't mean it won't get incorporated into the cultural memory. There are people who swear that Sherman's army destroyed their family's house/farm/barn/whatever, but if one uses historical research methods (rather than, say, journalistic research methods), it becomes clear that the particular event never happened (eg. Sherman's army was never within even 50 miles of the site). Among historians, there's a stunning example given where the historian was told by an old-timer that "Sherman's army burned that (pointing) building to the ground". [That building? The physical building that the old-timer was pointing to? Why yes, that exact building! Sherman tore through the area, and for meaness, burned that (again pointing) building to the ground]. (Yes, even physical evidence as obvious as a building 30 feet away may not deter a strong cultural myth) Further complicating the cultural myths and narratives of Sherman's March is the fact that a non-trivial part of the property destruction was done at the directive of Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard & the Confederate Congress

Which is not to deny the magnitude of the destruction. One thing that I wish was more in the foreground of the American Southern narrative is the fact of just how severe that economic devastation was -- the South didn't recover economically until after the Great Depression.

Thirdly, "Yankee celebration"? Are you seriously claiming that there are celebratory events (eg. parades, festivals..) for Sherman's March?
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 6:48 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Marching Through Georgia, wikipedia. Sung by Shermans troops and a popular song afterwards by union veterans celebrating the march. Sherman became very popular in the north, particularly for what he did in south Carolina. He even had to issue the famous statement that he wouldn't run for President.

My previous point was that Sherman's March and acts like it were war crimes. These crimes have created the myths about the war. It has remained in the North's eyes a conflict over slavery, and in the South's eyes a cultural memory where the Yankees came in with guns, burned down the farms and then imposed corrupt government from Washington in the form of reconstruction.

The imprint of these war crimes has had a lasting impact on the political views of southerners. It took me a long time to understand this as a Yankee ex-pat. This is why we have all those red states in the south today and why they were Democrat until civil rights.
posted by humanfont at 9:06 PM on December 22, 2010

agreed, "reconstruction" is the most dammed historical word in American History. IMO
posted by clavdivs at 10:31 AM on December 23, 2010

Marching Through Georgia, wikipedia. Sung by Shermans troops and a popular song afterwards by union veterans celebrating the march.

Ah, so you're referring to the immediate reactions ~145 years ago + the Reconstruction, rather than more contemporary tauntings (most visibly from the South, albeit with intent changing over time and circumstance). Your link gave a list; here's a specific example of "Marching Through Georgia" {SLYT: Jay Ungar 2:28}, chosen for the introduction and balanced presentation -- they play it both as a jubilant march (original) and as a lament.

This sort of enthusiastic march as a war song was really common at the time; there's "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" (used by both sides); the tune ironically taken from the Irish anti-war song "Johnny I hardly knew'ya" {SLYT: Luxon; 6:21}. And, to pick a Confederate song, there's "The Yellow Rose of Texas".

[side note: Despite being marches, the fiddle tune forms really stand out in "Marching Through Georgia" and "When Johnny Comes Home"; I can't say that's the case with, say, a typical John Philip Sousa march]

Many on both sides thought this would be a grand adventure, a quick romp -- the romanticism of the time (coupled with nearly two generations removal from experience of a home war, ie. the War of 1812) encouraged people to think of this as an opportunity to "prove their mettle", etc. IIRC some civilians decided that the First Battle of Manassas/Bull Run would be the perfect spectacle to watch while on picnic (I assume they realized how wrong-headed this was when their site was overrun with retreating troops). On preview: I see the the wikipedia link actually mentions this event: The wealthy elite of nearby Washington, including congressmen and their families, expecting an easy Union victory, had come to picnic and watch the battle. When the Union army was driven back in a running disorder, the roads back to Washington were blocked by panicked civilians attempting to flee in their carriages.[24]

Dovetailing with your point of the persistence of myth, note that "Marching Through Georgia" is much less widely know than "The Yellow Rose of Texas", although I think most would agree that Sherman's March was more influential to the Civil War than Texas. So it appears that much of our disagreement, such as it is, is in language, rather than ideas (although if you're claiming that war crimes are the sole reason for the persistent myths, that is a point of disagreement).

That is, yes, I agree that devastating defeat, followed by the humiliation of being constantly reminded of that defeat (eg. excessive reparations, Reconstruction) often results in long-standing grudges among many peoples (long after all participants have died, sometimes spanning centuries). In modern history, consider how the peace terms of WWI essentially guaranteed WWII, while the peace terms of WWII (from the American PoV) concluded with former enemies becoming allies. Contrast that with the Soviet experience, where their continued occupation solidified resentment towards the Russians.

To understand Sherman's decisions, it might be helpful to ponder the USA's decision to use the atomic bomb. In both cases, the US was facing an implacable enemy, one that (they concluded) would never surrender unless their families were directly affected. Moreover, in the case of landmines Sherman's use of Confederate prisoners to remove land mines {SLYT: 1:08; possible 30 sec commercial} (and releasing some to inform the Confederate leaders that if they did not stop using land mines, he would continue to use Confederate POWs to clear them) would be considered a war crime now, but at the time, in addition to it being unestablished law, there were at least two very persuasive arguments that it was justified: (1) Sherman's articulation that "The use of landmines is not war but murder"; (2) It worked. They stopped planting land mines immediately upon hearing that Confederate POWs would be used to clear them. And again, I think it should be recognized that it is not necessarily the war crimes which drives resentment, but more the devastating defeat and the treatment thereafter (see, again, the example of General George H. Thomas -- "His mobile field hospital system saved countless lives, Union and Confederate, at Chickamauga.")

There is considerable disagreement regarding how much blame Sherman deserves wrt South Carolina. The general consensus seems to be that it was not Sherman himself who approved or encourage the wild looting in SC -- indeed, for most of the March they had been fairly restrained in choosing their targets of destruction -- but renegade soldiers. South Carolina was particularly hated because it had initiated the war by firing the first shots at Fort Sumter. (Southern apologists would here point out that General Lee restrained his soldiers from going on a rampage (so, rhetorically, why couldn't/didn't Sherman)).

I think we basically agree about the overwhelming negative impact of war crimes, even on the perpetrators, but blaming Sherman's March for almost 150 years of refusal to frankly acknowledge the past and move forward approaches scapegoating. There were many factors and factions with axes to grind, and profitable myths to pursue. (Consider, just as an example, the glorification of Frank & Jessie James, and their cohorts. [eg. The Younger Brothers. Bloody Bill Anderson.])

Returning to and expanded a bit on the FFP, here's a nice interview with Anne Sarah Rubin {link to homepage}:
UMBC History professor Anne Sarah Rubin and Visual Arts professor Kelley Bell discuss their interdisciplinary project "Sherman's March and America: Mapping Memory" with Dr. Kriste Lindenmeyer, Chair of the History department. {SLYT: (28:46)} A couple of timemarks:
(7:00-7:50) Key point that Sherman's March has become repository of memory in the minds of many of Wrong Things in the Civil War
(7:51-8:31) Anecdotal evidence: Joe ("You lie!") Wilson's District is exactly in the path of Sherman's March {and again, SC got some of the most brutal treatment from the March}
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 8:24 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

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