Atlanta, Cradle of the New South: Race and Remembering in the Civil War's Aftermath

By William A. Link | Go to book overview

EPILOGUE
The Propaganda of History

Writing in 1922, Atlanta historian John R. Hornady offered evidence of the power that memory of the Civil War still held. Like many others, he believed that the city exemplified the modernizing South, but felt also that the war had left a lasting imprint. A lifelong resident of Atlanta, Hornady grew up among material reminders of the war. As a child, he used to play in a swimming hole in Peachtree Creek, surrounded by Civil War–era earthworks. By the 1920s, trolley cars and automobiles had extended beyond the suburbs, intruding on this historically hallowed ground. A long boulevard now crossed the creek and Hornady’s swimming hole. He saw this as a mark of progress, part of a “beautiful and truly marvelous transformation,” but the physical alteration of the landscape was so profound that he felt completely lost. Nearby, throngs of people poured out of a passenger station; streetcars clanged; mowers cut velvet lawns. The setting where men had fought and died—and “made glorious history”—no longer existed. The stark nature of the change illustrated how Atlanta had seemingly mastered its past.1

Elsewhere, material reminders of the war blended with indications of the city’s progress. In downtown Atlanta, at the busy intersection of Whitehall and Alabama Streets, Hornady noted an old lamppost that survived as a reminder of Atlanta’s bombardment. At the base of the lamppost was a shell hole, marked with an inscription on a bronze tablet. Around the lamppost were buildings and an “endless stream of pedestrians, or automobiles and street cars,” joined by the “roar and din of a great City that throbs with the noise of boundless energy.” All evidence of Atlanta’s destruction had been erased, “save the slender iron pole, with its gaping hole and its tiny tablet of bronze.” The scars of war had “disappeared, vanished, gone like an evil dream,” and the process by which this had occurred was “one of the wonders of Atlanta.”2

Atlanta represented the larger South, a place where, on the one hand, Sherman’s “war machine attained the maximum in destructive force,” while,

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