We welcome to the blog today a guest post by Thomas J. Brown, author of Civil War Canon: Sites of Confederate Memory in South Carolina, which will be published this month. In this expansive history of South Carolina’s commemoration of the Civil War era, Brown uses the lens of place to examine the ways that landmarks of Confederate memory have helped white southerners negotiate their shifting political, social, and economic positions. By looking at prominent sites such as Fort Sumter, Charleston’s Magnolia Cemetery, and the South Carolina statehouse, Brown reveals a dynamic pattern of contestation and change. He highlights transformations of gender norms and establishes a fresh perspective on race in Civil War remembrance by emphasizing the fluidity of racial identity within the politics of white supremacy.
In today’s post, to mark the 150th anniversary of Sherman’s March to the Sea, Brown will partner with the Historic Columbia Foundation for a “live tweet” event from 15 January to 20 February.
My research on South Carolina sites of Confederate memory for Civil War Canon has sharpened my interest in new ventures in public history. For the upcoming anniversary of the burning of Columbia (February 17), I am joining with the Historic Columbia Foundation (@HistColumbia) to “live tweet” Sherman’s March from January 15 to February 20 (#ShermansMarch). The sesquicentennial Twitter feed invites comparison with an ambitious centennial account of Sherman’s visit, the eighty-page commemorative issue published by the two daily newspapers then in Columbia. Both renditions of the oft-told tale propose to refresh the past by presenting history in media used for dissemination of current news. Both initiatives illuminate the relationship between forms of commemoration and implications of Civil War stories.
The February 1965 newspaper shared features with monuments, reliquaries, historic preservation projects, and other Confederate lieux de mémoire developed during the century after the war. The special issue played against the everyday discard of newspapers by seeking a lasting influence. A friend of mine who grew up in Columbia in the 1970s recalls that his grandmother kept her copy in the top drawer of the secretary bookcase in her living room. She would take it out annually on the anniversary of the fire and review the articles and illustrations with her grandson, recalling stories she had heard as a child in Columbia in the 1910s and 1920s and discussing local sites of memory that the two had visited together. This pattern followed rituals of remembrance associated with Lost Cause shrines. The newspaper purported to speak for the community. As in other commemorations, the forging of a collective voice was a negotiation. In this case, the prominence of corporate advertisements nudged the publication more toward pride in Columbia’s recovery than toward the claims of irreparable grievance that often characterized civic memory of Sherman.
Twitter is more similar to commemorative forms that have flourished since the mid-twentieth century. It appeals to commercialized recreation rather than ritualized reverence, much as the Confederate battle flag gained visibility through college sports and sustained influence through sales of t-shirts and beach towels. Enthusiasm for social media is part of the celebration of technology that has recently reshaped memory of the Hunley submarine. The concept of historical “live tweeting” resembles efforts of Civil War re-enactors to reproduce conditions of the past, such as the real-time unfolding of events, though my day-by-day chronicle does not pretend to offer the “period rush” some hobbyists find in simulation. keep reading →