New York Times Gives Enthusiastic Review to Restored Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama

Pat Young

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The New York Times reviewed the restored Atlanta Cyclorama this week and today ot was listed as one of the week's "Top Reads."

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/21/arts/design/confederate-monuments-cyclorama-atlanta.html


As many of you know the Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama has been moved to the Atlanta History Center and $35 million was raised to restore and house it. This new cyclorama center is the great new opening of a place to learn about Civil War history this year. The New York Times rarely gives long reviews of out-of-town history museum openings, but in this case the review is extremely enthuastic about the cyclorama and what the History Center has done with it.
 

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Pat Young

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From the review in the New York Times:

Now well over a century old, it still makes for effective theater. After entering the circular space through a tunnel and ascending a short escalator, you get a sudden, sweeping, horizon-level view of the painting and diorama below. You can then descend to floor level, where you can check out the stage mechanics (the steel weights that keep the painting’s surface taut, for example) and examine the painting and sculptures close up. Masterpieces, they’re not. The figures, executed by artists on the W.P.A. rolls, are roughly formed and summarily colored. The style of the painting might be described as a mix of Romantic realism and deadline-Impressionism: The whole thing was finished, in what seem to have been long, beer-fueled sessions, in a matter of weeks.

Wisely, the Center doesn’t treat the cyclorama as art, entertainment or monument. It presents it as a dynamic artifact of the past with complicated information for the present. Indeed, the really interesting aspect of the cyclorama in its new home at the Center is the way it is documented, interpreted, and explained.

Gordon L. Jones, the Center’s senior military historian, has scrupulously researched its specific history, nested that history within the context of other histories, social and political, and laid out his findings in an adjoining gallery. The most radical commentary, though, is inside the cyclorama itself. It comes in a series of myth-puncturing wall texts on the causes and effects of the Civil War and the propaganda it produced, and, in a short video projected onto the painting’s surface, insists on the need for vigilance in separating history from fiction.

That separation is, as we know from the truth-doctoring of the present moment, an elusive one. Maybe it has always been. The hopeful news is that our history museums, particularly, lately, those in the South, are acknowledging this, and going for truth. Their basic premise is plain: history doesn’t change, we change, and we’d better start now.
 

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I saw the cyclorama twice in its old Grant Park home. It was both impressive and a bit of a mess. I have also been to the Atlanta History Center twice, prior to the move of the cyclorama. It is a truely impressive institution. I have to say that it has lessons to teach the New-York Historical Society and the Museum of the City of New York. It is really a great place, with signifcant exhibits on the Civil War and Reconstruction. Putting the cyclorama in the History Center should make for an incredible experience. Anyone heading to Hotlanta for business, a convention, or sporting event should put this center on their must-visit list.

We all rightly bemoan the paving over of Civil War Atlanta, but we need to acknowledge the remarkable museum that tells the story of the city.
 

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Edited.

In this fantasy, virtually all the “brothers” were white, and so they are in the painting. Of some 6,000 figures in the cyclorama, only one — set far back from the action, barely visible but clearly noncombatant — is African-American. And in real life, enforcing black invisibility would be a white obsession. When the “Gone With the Wind” cast visited the cyclorama, the film’s black performers were not invited. In a segregated Atlanta, Grant Park was off-limits to black citizens into the 1950s.
The physical absence of black figures points to an even more far-reaching suppression: a denial that slavery and the intense, continuous black fight for liberation were primary motivators of the war itself. The refusal to acknowledge this reality bolstered white supremacy and contributed to continuing racial oppression in the form of Jim Crow laws, through the following century.


Of course it would be expecting too much to expect that this particular writer whose mind is fully made up would actually KNOW anything about what he's decrying: That his Hero Uncle Billy steadfastly refused to allow any USCT units in his own army! Or perhaps he really believes there actually were Black Confederates that somehow got left out?? I suppose the artists should've just invented some black soldiers even though anyone seeing the work at the time would've certainly known the difference even if this writer is too ignorant to.
 

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Of course it would be expecting too much to expect that this particular writer whose mind is fully made up would actually KNOW anything about what he's decrying: That his Hero Uncle Billy steadfastly refused to allow any USCT units in his own army!
Not sure he said Sherman was his hero.
 

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I read the Times story and thought it was very informative. I viewed the Cyclorama when it was still in Grant Park. Based on the story, I would definitely want to see the new restoration in its museum setting.
 

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I read the Times story and thought it was very informative. I viewed the Cyclorama when it was still in Grant Park. Based on the story, I would definitely want to see the new restoration in its museum setting.
If you go, let us know.

I agree with you, btw. It sounds like something I would really enjoy.
 
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Not sure he said Sherman was his hero.

Hi Pat and thank you for sharing the article. James N. pointed this part of the article out.....

"In this fantasy, virtually all the “brothers” were white, and so they are in the painting. Of some 6,000 figures in the cyclorama, only one — set far back from the action, barely visible but clearly noncombatant — is African-American. And in real life, enforcing black invisibility would be a white obsession. When the “Gone With the Wind” cast visited the cyclorama, the film’s black performers were not invited. In a segregated Atlanta, Grant Park was off-limits to black citizens into the 1950s.
The physical absence of black figures points to an even more far-reaching suppression: a denial that slavery and the intense, continuous black fight for liberation were primary motivators of the war itself. The refusal to acknowledge this reality bolstered white supremacy and contributed to continuing racial oppression in the form of Jim Crow laws, through the following century."

Now I have not conducted much of any in depth study of the Battle of Atlanta or of the units, or lack of units included or involved, but were Black soldiers present?

If not, what is your take on that part of the article?

Respectfully,

William

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Pat Young

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Hi Pat and thank you for sharing the article. James N. pointed this part of the article out.....

"In this fantasy, virtually all the “brothers” were white, and so they are in the painting. Of some 6,000 figures in the cyclorama, only one — set far back from the action, barely visible but clearly noncombatant — is African-American. And in real life, enforcing black invisibility would be a white obsession. When the “Gone With the Wind” cast visited the cyclorama, the film’s black performers were not invited. In a segregated Atlanta, Grant Park was off-limits to black citizens into the 1950s.
The physical absence of black figures points to an even more far-reaching suppression: a denial that slavery and the intense, continuous black fight for liberation were primary motivators of the war itself. The refusal to acknowledge this reality bolstered white supremacy and contributed to continuing racial oppression in the form of Jim Crow laws, through the following century."

Now I have not conducted much of any in depth study of the Battle of Atlanta or of the units, or lack of units included or involved, but were Black soldiers present?

If not, what is your take on that part of the article?

Respectfully,

William

One Nation,
Two countries
View attachment 293965
Without wanting to contradict James, I don't think the author was insiting on the inclusion of non-existent USCT combat units in the painting. He does not ask "Why was the 54th Massachusetts not included?" Instead he wrote:

The physical absence of black figures points to an even more far-reaching suppression: a denial that slavery and the intense, continuous black fight for liberation were primary motivators of the war itself. The refusal to acknowledge this reality bolstered white supremacy and contributed to continuing racial oppression in the form of Jim Crow laws, through the following century.

I think that if you had been in the position of the cyclorama audience on the actual day of the battle and had been able to see what the audience today sees virtually, you would have seen black people. The land was not scrubbed clean of African Americans when battles took place.

In any event, "historical paintings" of the 19th Century were rarely intended to be painted photographs of actual scenes. They were constructed objects designed to convey certain messages. Anyone familiar with the Atlanta painting knows that one message this work was designed to convey was the centrality of Black Jack Logan to the victory.

If the Atlanta cyclorama was be painted today, do you doubt that it would include at least some of these elements:

Black stretcher bearers bringing the wounded to aid stations.
Black teamsters driving wagons for both sides.
Slaves distrubed in their lives by the eruption of battle and sheltering from the storm of lead. I know many slaves had already been forced by their owners to move south, but some were still in the area.
Fugitive slaves crossing over to the Union lines.

The abscence of all but one black face calls up the question of intent. Are we to believe that only 1 in 6000 people who would have been visible that day were black? I think not. The abscence of blacks in the painting points not to an abscence of blacks in the area of the actual battle, but to the fostering of a narrative of the war being fought by two groups of heroic white men. The exclusion of non-whites from the painting meant that the uncomfortable issues of race and slavery could be set aside.
 
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Without wanting to contradict James, I don't think the author was insiting on the inclusion of non-existent USCT combat units in the painting. He does not ask "Why was the 54th Massachusetts not included?" Instead he wrote:

The physical absence of black figures points to an even more far-reaching suppression: a denial that slavery and the intense, continuous black fight for liberation were primary motivators of the war itself. The refusal to acknowledge this reality bolstered white supremacy and contributed to continuing racial oppression in the form of Jim Crow laws, through the following century.

I think that if you had been in the position of the cyclorama audience on the actual day of the battle and had been able to see what the audience today sees virtually, you would have seen black people. The land was not scrubbed clean of African Americans when battles took place.

In any event, "historical paintings" of the 19th Century were rarely intended to be painted photographs of actual scenes. They were constructed objects designed to convey certain messages. Anyone familiar with the Atlanta painting knows that one message this work was designed to convey was the centrality of Black Jack Logan to the victory.

If the Atlanta cyclorama was be painted today, do you doubt that it would include at least some of these elements:

Black stretcher bearers bringing the wounded to aid stations.
Black teamsters driving wagons for both sides.
Slaves distrubed in their lives by the eruption of battle and sheltering from the storm of lead. I know many slaves had already been forced by their owners to move south, but some were still in the area.
Fugitive slaves crossing over to the Union lines.

The abscence of all but one black face calls up the question of intent. Are we to believe that only 1 in 6000 people who would have been visible that day were black? I think not. The abscence of blacks in the painting points not to an abscence of blacks in the area of the actual battle, but to the fostering of a narrative of the war being fought by two groups of heroic white men. The exclusion of non-whites from the painting meant that the uncomfortable issues of race and slavery could be set aside.

Yes I can see your point there on the view of.........


Black stretcher bearers bringing the wounded to aid stations.
Black teamsters driving wagons for both sides.
Slaves distrubed in their lives by the eruption of battle and sheltering from the storm of lead. I know many slaves had already been forced by their owners to move south, but some were still in the area.
Fugitive slaves crossing over to the Union lines.

Respectfully,

William

One Nation,
Two countries
Confed-American Flag - Thumbnail.jpg
 



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