Diane Buchwalder

Civil War Exhibit

Themed entertainment, 2013

As a large group project we were tasked with designing a temporary museum-style exhibit that could be placed in the Savannah Civic Center and highlighted some of Savannah's role in the American Civil War. In addition to some of the over-arching aspects of the war as a whole, we chose to focus on General Sherman's march from Atlanta to Savannah-- and its seaport to the Atlantic Ocean. This pathway served not only as our historical structure for the events, but also as a physical pathway that guests would experience in order to mirror the timeline.

My role for the project was to develop the characters and perspectives of the events that would lead guests through; our concept was that personal stories would allow for more connection to the distance of time and statistics. We decided upon five perspectives to follow through the war and its effects on Savannah; a slave, a politician, a Union soldier, a Confederate soldier, and a Savannah physician. All of our accounts were based on historical accounts and events with as minimal creativity and editorializing as possible. Following are the personal but historically fictional narratives we chose to pursue:

 

The Slave

  • 1861: “War has broken out over my own skin. Lincoln and the north have alienated the southern states over slavery and I think I may never be my own man. If they can get their war this far south I will run straight to it.”
  • 1862: “Supposedly, by next year, I am free. Of course, that is as a citizen of the United States and not the Confederate States where I currently reside. I know every man from the north is not entirely sold on my independence, but if I can get the opportunity, I will show them I can fight just as nobly. It can be my nation, too.”
  • First Battle of Fort McAllister: “I heard that the coastal cities have been under attack beyond the blockades. I think soon that time and tide will be on their side.”
  • 1863: “It has been a long year. Between the Emancipation Proclamation and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, I have seen so much talk of my freedom. The Union is issuing a call that the Confederacy refuses to answer.”
  • 1864: “With Sherman’s arrival in Atlanta I have been freed. I am joining the Union army in its march and I can think only for the hope of freeing all my brothers and sisters.”
  • Sherman’s March to the Sea: “General Sherman is quickly moving us toward his strategic target, aiming to open up waterway access into Georgia for the Union. Like myself we have picked up other slaves along the way, some men joining the cause while others run north. We have cleared out every sign of life in our way.”
  • Second Battle of Fort McAllister: “The siege today was nearly immediate. Despite the artillery from the fort, and the torpedoes [land mines] buried in the swamplands by the Confederates, we took the fort in only a few minutes. Our glory may be brief but from the word of all the other men, our success is great.”
  • 1865: “We are free. In the United States, we are free. The Thirteenth Amendment was passed in January and the Confederates are surrendering. I am free.”
     
 

The Savannah Physician

  • 1861: “Georgia is now a part of the Confederate States of America. It is inspiring to see everyone stand for their beliefs though an incredible toll on the humanity. We are lucky in Savannah to yet see any action, though we are trying to provide support as we can. The river sees more action than any of my neighbors, but that I am thankful for.”
  • 1862: “This war grows larger every day. Our port has been blockaded since April when the Union sieged Fort Pulaski. Some runners have gotten through but they are not too many. It is disheartening to feel trapped but our boys hold the fort as well and keep the northerners at bay.”
  • First Battle of Fort McAllister: “For eight hours straight today we could hear the attacks fly on Fort McAllister and returned on the Union ships. We are lucky that the fort and the city have held out, and I remind each of my friends that Savannah’s citizens are as strong as those earthen barriers. But we are still close enough to all the action that I am worried that soon our beautiful Savannah itself will be a victim.”
  • 1863: “Georgia remains resilient. Though Savannah is cut off from the sea, we have held back the Union at our forts and elsewhere. Stories have trickled in of the damages in Gettysburg and Chickamauga and the horrors seen all around. This is surely the bloodiest year of this godforsaken war and I continuously think on our safety.”
  • 1864: “Sherman captured Atlanta and has decided to meet his Union ships at the ocean’s edge. I fear for my life and all of Savannah as he marches closer and closer, destroying everything in his path.”
  • Sherman’s March to the Sea: “The Union troops creep up on Savannah by the day. Their barbaric methods have struck fear into every citizen as they have left no crops, no livestock, and no usable infrastructure behind them. Their blackened warpath is aimed straight at us, and we are trapped.”
  • Second Battle of Fort McAllister: “We got word today that Fort McAllister had fallen to the North. Unlike the last attempted siege, this was nearly over before it began. My only thankfulness is that Sherman has not yet arrived in our city and we may yet escape his damage. I will head out to the fort to help our wounded.”
  • 1865: “It is over. Sherman captured Savannah, taking our supplies but luckily not burning us into the earth. Not but a few months later our main troops have surrendered to the North.”
     
 

The Politician

  • 1861: “Tensions have finally peaked in the capitol. Lincoln has been successful in his campaign and South Carolina delegates have led a charge for their own separate government. After Kansas was admitted to the union with a prohibition against slavery, ten states in all have started off on their own to create a new nation out of the previously United States.”
  • 1862: “Lincoln has issued the Emancipation Proclamation. He has the intent to keep the north on the anti-slavery path, even though this law does very little in actual function. Come January, any slave in a state still in rebellion will be a freed man, though those still in the Union will remain unchanged, however. In spite of this, Lincoln has quite skillfully undermined the foreign support for the Confederate states, who were viewed as freedom fighters but have been reexamined as vicious slaveholders.”
  • First Battle of Fort McAllister: “The Union has had the port of Savannah successfully blockaded for a while now, and continues attempts to make progress on land. On March 3rd they bombarded the Fort McAllister for eight hours with only so much as a dent, though the commanders on both sides say it has been good artillery practice.”
  • 1863: “This November, Lincoln has reiterated his goal in this race. His address at Gettysburg recalled the freedom of person upon which the United States were founded and has reinforced his arrangement of the war not only as one of political rights but also of personal. Though his brief memorialization was forced to follow Edward Everett’s, it was just as stirring.”
  • 1864: “Despite the attacks on the Washington D.C. area in July, the campaigns in the South brought about another successful election for Lincoln. Despite McClellan’s desire to broker an accord, Lincoln’s passionate ideals and the capture of Atlanta captured the attention of the Union.”
  • Sherman’s March to the Sea: “With Atlanta in hand, Sherman seems ready to take on all of Georgia. He plans to march across the state and end up in Savannah, where he hopes to break through the Confederate forts to the Union’s blockade ships on the other side. If Fort McAllister is any sign though, he will not amount to much success.”
  • Second Battle of McAllister: “Sherman’s insight has opened up the Ogeechee river for Union ships and supply lines. Even with all the resolution from both parties—the blockade and the forts—it seems one has finally given way.”
  • 1865: “This year has hit all the highs and lows. From the dramatic amendment to the Constitution, freeing all slaves, to the surrender of Lee, to the most recent assassination of President Lincoln… It is almost too much.”
     
 

The Confederate Soldier

  • 1861: “We have formed the Confederate States of America and yet the Yanks will not let us govern ourselves. We have been forced to take up arms against Lincoln’s willing volunteers to defend our very rights. They wish to stand on us but they will find they have stepped on a bed of snakes.”
  • 1862: “We have had some distinguished success with Johnston’s replacement by Robert E. Lee. Our Confederate nation has bitten back though the Union still pushes against us. I have lost some friends and it is difficult to bear, but we will see this through to its righteous end.”
  • First Battle of Fort McAllister: “The Union has yet to fight us off. They think we are just some political distraction but as Fort McAllister has shown, we will be resilient and uphold ourselves through and true.”
  • 1863: “Chickamauga has been a success! We have held off the North, though not without great expense. We have pushed them out of Georgia and back into Tennessee, however, and have put an end to their current campaign.”
  • 1864: “The Yankees have captured Atlanta. Their general Sherman has forced us out and we have left without access to our munitions. We were practically smoked out of our own homes, but Hood thought to leave nothing of value behind to give them advantage.”
  • Sherman’s March to the Sea: “Just as Hood had predicted, the Union soldiers are taking everything they can and destroying the rest on their destructive path to their goals. They are no better than monsters but we will not let them win out. In the end they will destroy themselves.”
  • Second Battle of Fort McAllister: “Sherman arrived outside of Savannah and continued with his storm of destruction. We barely saw the Union troops coming before they had knocked through to us on the inside.”
  • 1865: “Lee has surrendered. We have lost too much to go on. For all the fight in us, to separate ourselves, to fight for our beliefs, we have also lost our friends and our family and our land. We will have to make peace as a Union again.”
     
 

The Union Soldier

  • 1861: “Lincoln has asked for volunteers, and of course I was the first to step forward. The training was harder than I expected but I am proud to present myself for report each morning. The boys have said we are due to move out soon though no one is sure where we are headed first. We are itching to get to task though and show the rebels their mistake.”
  • 1862: “We have pushed through Tennessee. This is our first big break into the south but we are all hopeful. Despite our strategic successes, we are not invulnerable. After each battle it is horrifying to see the fields covered in the dead and wounded while there is so little we can do to ease their suffering. The nurses are doing their best but the Union is not without great sacrifice.”
  • First Battle of Fort McAllister:  “I have heard that we have had some success from our blockades. We have not yet completely broken through into the southern states, but we are on our way.”
  • 1863: “Gettysburg has been a terrible battle. They are saying that more soldiers were lost here than in any battle yet. But they are also saying we have turned back the South, and I hope they are right.”
  • 1864: “General Grant has taken control of the Union armies. We have continued our duties and with Lincoln’s reelection we hope he will see his strategy through.”
  • Sherman’s March to the Sea: “Sherman is pushing us through Atlanta and to the coast of Georgia. We are at a quick pace as he is desperate for the supplies waiting in the ships outside of Savannah. But we are coming and the rebels are slowly falling away.”
  • Second Battle of Fort McAllister: “Under General Hazen we were commanded to take Fort McAllister today. Despite all the stories of its resilience, the fort fell to us in only fifteen minutes. We ran through a hail of artillery fire but after the brief siege were overjoyed to find our own ships waiting for us over the next wall.”
  • 1865: “We have won. Lee has surrendered, the United States will be whole again some day. I who was so quick to jump at the chance to prove our righteousness, I have learned so much, lost so much. But we have succeeded.”

 

Additional project members: Jacob Berding, Mengwanzi Ding, Martha Gutierrez, Jingsi He, and Meng Sun