Through the Heart of Dixie: Sherman's March and American Memory

Through the Heart of Dixie: Sherman's March and American Memory

Through the Heart of Dixie: Sherman's March and American Memory

Through the Heart of Dixie: Sherman's March and American Memory

Synopsis

Sherman's March, cutting a path through Georgia and the Carolinas, is among the most symbolically potent events of the Civil War. In Through the Heart of Dixie, Anne Sarah Rubin uncovers and unpacks stories and myths about the March from a wide variety of sources, including African Americans, women, Union soldiers, Confederates, and even Sherman himself. Drawing her evidence from an array of media, including travel accounts, memoirs, literature, films, and newspapers, Rubin uses the competing and contradictory stories as a lens into the ways that American thinking about the Civil War has changed over time.

Compiling and analyzing the discordant stories around the March, and considering significant cultural artifacts such as George Barnard's 1866 Photographic Views of Sherman's Campaign, Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, and E. L. Doctorow's The March, Rubin creates a cohesive narrative that unites seemingly incompatible myths and asserts the metaphorical importance of Sherman's March to Americans' memory of the Civil War. The book is enhanced by a digital history project, which can be found at shermansmarch.org.

Excerpt

Forty-one times a year, twenty-three hundred miles from Atlanta, the legacy of Sherman’s March comes alive on the windswept prairies of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. There, thousands of people regularly brave below-freezing temperatures and head to the Scotiabank Saddledome to cheer on their beloved Calgary Flames of the National Hockey League. Does the name refer obliquely to Calgary’s petroleum industry? To the Calgary Fire of 1886? No. It’s the last remnant of Atlanta’s short-lived nhl franchise, the Atlanta Flames (1972–80). the very fact that Atlanta could glibly memorialize what was arguably the worst moment in its history tells us something about the powerful hold of memories of the American Civil War.

“Sherman’s March.” the name conjures up a host of images and references, myths and metaphors for Americans. They think of Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh, silhouetted against the flames in Gone with the Wind; of lone chimneys standing sentinel, all that remained of destroyed plantations; of soldiers stealing hams and silver, chickens and jewelry; of “war is hell,” and “forty acres and a mule”; of the birth of total war. It is, I would argue, the most symbolically powerful aspect of the American Civil War, one that has a cultural dominance perhaps disproportionate to its actual strategic importance. It has come to stand for devastation and destruction, fire and brimstone, war against civilians, and for the Civil War in microcosm. Sherman’s March has been memorialized in fiction and film, been used to explain both America’s involvement in Vietnam and one man’s search for romance. It has been employed as a metaphor for the burned out South Bronx of the 1970s and the gerrymandering of electoral districts. Sports teams talk about enacting a Sherman’s March on their opponents. Opponents of video poker liken it to the scourge of the March. Insects provide a particularly common metaphorical partner; the destruction wrought by the March has been variously compared to that of army worms, fire ants, the boll weevil, and the “Sherman bug” (official name: the harlequin bug). One legend holds that the line of Sherman’s March can be traced in the growth of daisies across the South, as their seeds arrived in the . . .

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