Sherman Gives Lincoln Savannah, Georgia for Christmas
On December 21, 1864, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman reached Savannah, Georgia, leaving behind him a 300-mile-long path of destruction 60 miles wide all the way from Atlanta. He sent the President a telegram:
Savannah, GA, December 22, 1864
Via Fortress Monroe, Dec. 25.
To His Excellency President Lincoln: I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty heavy guns and plenty of ammunition; and also about twenty-five thousand (25,000) bales of cotton.
W. T. Sherman, Major General.
The Union Reader, Richard B. Harwell, ed. (1958) p. 322.
Eastman Johnson’s Painting Christmas-Time, The Blodgett Family, 1864, Examines Northerners’ Mixed Reaction to Black Troops
Art historian Eleanor Jones Harvey writes in The Civil War and American Art, “[Painter] Eastman Johnson enfolded the mixed reaction to black troops in [a painting commissioned by New York City art collector William Tilden,] . . . ostensibly about a family celebration. . . . In Christmas-Time, The Blodgett Family, [(1864)] five members of the family gather in the parlor. What appears to be a celebratory painting carries deeper layers of meaning, complicating the opulent setting with its festive seasonal decorations. Mr. Blodgett stands with his back to the fireplace, watching along with his wife and two daughters as their son demonstrates a new toy. The doll occupies center stage, with all eyes on its diminutive figure. It represents a black man, a variation on the minstrel and jig-dolls popular during this period, with limbs manipulated by strings or, in this case, a lever attached to the back that governs the doll’s marching steps. Its clothes are painted to resemble a soldier’s uniform. Although the toy soldier appears to be the focus of the painting, it is the Blodgetts’ youngest child who holds the key to the composition’s more subtle layer of meaning. She stands dressed in white, her own toy forgotten as she watches the jig-doll with an expression of concern and sadness. Her hands are tightly clasped in front of her, the tension in her body a contrast to the more languid and passive expressions of her parents and older siblings. In her white dress and pink sash, she is dressed identically to so many portrayals of Little Eva from Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Young children were often portrayed in prints and paintings as bellwethers of the future, small reminders of lives and attitudes yet to be shaped. It is her gaze that keeps us from joining in the merriment. The white boy manipulating the toy soldier under the watchful eye of his parents, the sad and anxious expression of his younger sister, and the curious gaze of his older sister — these people encapsulate the murky and conflicting attitudes toward African Americans, including free blacks and soldiers, that prevailed even among the more genteel and liberal supporters of the Union cause.
“As the confidently marching black soldier struts off the edge of the table, two generations of Blodgetts consider the free man’s service in the Union army with differing emotions, a situation that plays into the current events of 1864. Johnson’s edgy composition appears to raise, if not answer, questions posed by the youngest child’s body language: at what point is it no longer okay to play with such a doll, and when is this no longer a game? When does the black man embodied in the doll cease to be a plaything, a lesser being, fit to be controlled by a white master? At what point is he able to march under his own power to his own destiny? William Blodgett played an important role in affirming the value of the free black man as a viable soldier and defender of his country — for all citizens, black and white. However, as this doll attests, even free blacks are not yet equals in white society. This scene takes place on the cusp of that revolution. Johnson subtly suggests that it will be the children — and especially the very young children — who will be the agents of that profound societal shift.”
The Civil War and American Art, Eleanor Jones Harvey, Smithsonian American Art Museum in association with Yale University Press, p. 207.
– All entries were submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Vermont Humanities Council executive director