I am drawn to the elegiac. There are moments in world history that can only be honored by our focus on the actions and lives of those who came before us. Sometimes, it’s all that‘s in our power to do.
That’s how I feel about this 150 anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter, and the four blood-soaked years that followed to rebirth a nation.
150 years ago is feeling very recent. The history of our country is so comparably young in general, and its biggest crisis-—states that left the United States of America for whichever reason you subscribe to---came only 100 years after its founding.
This anniversary of ours has great resonance and relevance at this time of enormous global shifting. I don’t know that anyone really learns from history, but what this country went through should at least help us have compassion for what many are suffering now.
LibyaInMe Libya In Me by acarvin
#itssadwhen you're lifelong neighbour is the one killing you & depriving you of your freedom. Shame shame #Algeria. #libya #feb17 (thanks to @acarvin)
North Is North, and South Is South (with respects to Kipling)
Being a Northerner means I have a particular perspective about 19th century American history in my DNA. Edward Rothstein writes about this in an excellent article about visiting Civil War Museums in the South and the North.
“As seen from a perch up North, the war's purpose is morally and politically clear. Slavery's abolition, like Lincoln's powerful redefinition of the nation's principles, set the United States on a path toward equality that it might have never found through antebellum thickets. The Civil War created contemporary America.
“But spend some time in Southern museums, and it becomes clear that what seems evident up North is here clouded and contested. And if, in the North, the war seems part of a continuum of history, here it remains a cataclysm. The war was not a continuation of Southern history; it was a break in it. And that is still, for the South, the problem.
“Nearly every war site and exhibition I have seen in the South wrestles with double perspectives and conflicting sentiments alien to the North.”
“Alien to the North.” Well said, and part of what continues to pull at the country.
Still, whatever divides us, the North and the South can share a moment today to respect the 625,000 Americans who died in four years as this nation continued its own unfolding.
I don’t remember studying the Civil War—-a.k.a. the War Between the States, or the War of Northern Aggression--much in school; there were no battles in the state of New York. Of course there were many regiments from NY, and much recruitment, as you see in this poster for Manhattan Rifles (from this excellent website all about New York State and the Civil War.)
I would have said that there is not much evidence of the Civil War in Manhattan, but that's not true. There are some memories of the war, and one is so ingrained in the psyche of a native New Yorker so as not to be noticed!
Tecumseh in New York
William Tecumseh Sherman retired to New York in 1886, and died on Valentine’s Day, 1891. For the South he is the most reviled man of the war. He employed the concept of total war---destroying everything that could support an army in any way--to his Siege of Atlanta, March to the Sea, then push through the Carolinas. From a course on "A Southern View of History: The War for Southern Independence: "In Part 13 we will briefly examine a few of the atrocities and war crimes that General Sherman committed against the people of Georgia."
The destruction was a strategy that both he and US Grant shared. They believed the only way to bring the war to an end was to make it so horrible beyond the imagination for the South that the people would have to stop fighting.
I walk by Tecumseh Playground on 77 and Amsterdam every Saturday. All that young life enjoying the swings and ladders of a park contrasts deeply with the destruction wrought by its namesake. I didn’t’ realize that there is a school around the corner, PS 87, named for him. Seems a very odd attribution for a New York City school. How do these things get decided? Sherman himself lived on Broadway and 70th street, called Sherman Square at that intersection.
Both my parents are from Brooklyn, so my entire life I’ve heard Grand Army Plaza sprinkled into conversations. I never thought, “What’s the Grand Army?” and yet now I know. The Plaza was constructed by Olmstead and Vaux in 1867, and originally called Prospect Plaza, at the entrance to Prospect Park. Various elements were added over time, including the Arch with the Soldiers and Sailors Monument by John H. Duncan, which has a relief of Lincoln and Lee.
It was renamed Grand Army Plaza in 1926. Grand Army of the Republic was a fraternal organization of Union Army veterans, started in 1866, disbanded in 1956 when its last member died. In 1926 they were honoring the 60th anniversary of the war by renaming the plaza for the Union veterans. So that little bit of Civil War history under my nose my entire life.
And here’s another. I never knew that the plaza outside of, well, The Plaza (hotel)on 5th Avenue and 59th Street is also called Grand Army Plaza, for the same reason as in Brooklyn (completed in 1916). The honking statue of a man on horseback in the plaza, somewhat recently re-gilded, is none other than William T. Sherman. I have walked, driven, jogged by that statue a thousand times in my life, and never looked at who was on the horse or why. It was sculpted by Augustus Saint-Gaudens and unveiled in 1903.
Here is the description of the statue from a Central Park website:
Dynamic in all its glory, no one can miss the magnificent elevated gilded bronze statue of William Tecumseh Sherman in the northern half of Central Park's Grand Army Plaza.
The larger-than-life statue of Union Army General William Tecumseh Sherman, a great American military hero of the American Civil War, dramatically appears on his regal horse whose right rear hoof crushes a Georgia pine branch.
Accompanied by Nike, the Goddess of Victory, Sherman is courageously led into the battle of 1864 in which the Confederacy was successfully split in two effectively ending the Civil War.
History is indeed written by the victors, especially on their own turf.
The arguments about the “actual” whys about the Civil War continue heatedly. Again I recommend the Disunion series in the NY Times, for the vibrancy of the conversation there:
Ed, New York:
To Athur UWS NYC: "the North brought the war to Southern homes and to Southern hearths."
Nice try, but the first shots were fired by the South trying to steal federal property.
Yup. This war simply defies complete consensus. It’s American to the core.