So, the United States is revisiting the Confederate statues that litter the country, including in states that fought for the Union. One common argument I see online is that the purpose of statues is to teach people about important historical figures. If the statues are torn down, people will know less history.
Is this true? Would people forget about historical figures of they don’t have statues?
The South gives us an interesting test case.
One of the most important figures in the history of The South is a man born and raised in Ohio, just like me. He literally left his mark on Georgia and the Carolinas. And yet, I can find no evidence of any statues of this man anywhere in the South.
That man is General William Tecumseh Sherman.
General Sherman solved the problem of how to operate without supply lines by ordering his soldiers to live of the land. They foraged, stealing crops and animals from farms, to feed the advancing army, frequently leaving the civilians with little food to feed themselves. Sherman’s army also wrecked railroad tracks and telegraph lines as they traveled. It is commonly said that Sherman’s March to the Sea, between Atlanta and Savannah, carved a path of destruction 300 miles long and 60 miles wide.
No state in the South has built a single statue of Sherman.
Has the South, lacking statues of Sherman, forgotten Sherman?
My brother met a man from the Carolinas year ago. (After Sherman tore through Georgia, he turned his attention to the Carolinas). When my brother told him he was from Ohio, the man stopped smiling. “Sherman’s from Ohio, ” he said. ( Damn straight.). Sherman has been vilified throughout the South. The cultural memory of the destruction he wrought is very much alive.
And without a single statue.