Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sherman named Person of the Year at event co-sponsored by Museum of Confederacy

Hell’s broke loose over the selection in Virginia of William Tecumseh Sherman, the Civil War Union military commander who waged total war on the South, as the Person of the Year.

What a disgrace.

“They should have tried him for War Crimes

“You people are a special kind of stupid!

Such was the social media firestorm after the audience at a Civil War sesquicentennial symposium in Virginia cast their ballots for the most influential person of 1864. Their picks followed speeches by noted scholars and authors who made nominations.

And the perceived irony that the Museum of the Confederacy was one of three hosts of Saturday’s event at the Library of Virginia in Richmond brought an extra heaping of disgust on its Facebook page.

“Y'all ought to rename The Museum of the Confederacy to the museum of yankee domination.

“You're the Museum of the Confederacy? How is this even remotely possible? Remind me to NEVER darken your doorstep nor support any organization that supports you in any way. You should be ashamed of yourselves. You have just insulted anyone who has ancestry tied to the South.

Others pointed out that the criteria for Person of the Year, as indicated on a press release on the event, was for “most” influential,” not beloved. And they backed the Sherman pick.

“(For) who had the most impact on the war that year …  I doubt anyone can beat Sherman,” wrote JM on a Facebook post. “After Lee tied down Grant in Virginia, or the other way around as you please, the person who had the most impact was Sherman. Without his campaign to take Atlanta, I think the historic consensus is that Lincoln faces a near impossible re-election.”

Historians Gary Gallagher, Harold Holzer, John Marszalek, Craig Symonds and Joe Mobley backed their picks at the symposium hosted by the MOC, the American Civil War Center and the Library of Virginia.

When the dust settled, the final tally was:

Sherman- 38
Confederate Gen. Patrick Cleburne- 29
Lincoln- 15
Lee & Grant- 11
North Carolina Gov. Zebulon Vance- 8
Union Adm. David Farragut (write in)- 1
Citizens (write in)- 1

According to the MOC Facebook page, Mississippi State’s Marszalek nominated Sherman, saying “that he changed the way wars were fought and was most responsible for the outcome of the Civil War.”

Gallagher backed Grant and Lee, and Holzer endorsed Lincoln.

Of course, an audience vote is not scientific, or indicative of anything more than who was participating. Still, it followed pitches by subject matter experts.

Such “controversies” are common when someone receives a distinction. TIME’s Person of the Year went to Adolf Hitler in 1938 and Josef Stalin in 1939 and 1942. Some of the MOC commenters made note of Hitler.

TIME says its designationis bestowed by the editors on the person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year.”

Sherman was in Georgia nearly all of 1864, working his army from below Chattanooga, Tenn., toward Atlanta, which he took in early September. His March to the Sea ended just before Christmas in Savannah. Over the year, he cut the Confederacy and vital rail and supply lines. He demoralized Confederate soldiers and civilians alike. To this day, critics call him a barbaraian who did not keep his troops from excesses during the campaigns. Others consider his tactics brilliant.

The Civil War Trust’s biography of Maj. Gen. Sherman includes this passage:

“By 1864 Sherman had become convinced that preservation of the Union was contingent not only on defeating the Southern armies in the field but, more importantly, on destroying the Confederacy's material and psychological will to wage war.  To achieve that end, he launched a campaign in Georgia that was defined as “modern warfare”, and brought “total destruction…upon the civilian population in the path of the advancing columns [of his armies].” 

The choice of Sherman over other nominees brought spirited discussion on the Civil War Memory blog.

BH wrote: “Sherman is the perfect choice: one does not have to approve of his concept of war to appreciate the impact he had: people do often get more upset about loss of property than loss of life. Uncle Billy made Georgia howl!”

Past Person of the Year selections were Abraham Lincoln (1861), Robert E. Lee (1862), and Ulysses S. Grant (1863).

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