Atlanta needs a song.


No, the one by Jermaine Dupri and Ludacris ("Welcome to Atlanta") just won't cut it; there is much beyond the parties "'til 8 in the morning." The remix version is also not quite good enough to fully represent us. (But, they are crunk, I suppose.)

This crossed my mind as I was driving home from school, from a class period devoted to the Civil War, specifically the Atlanta Campaign, Sherman's larger campaign through Georgia in 1864, and Lee Kennett's book Marching Through Georgia: The Story of the Soldiers and Civilians During Sherman's Campaign. I felt a very specific connection to this history, as we talked about the areas where many of the battles occurred, as well as spots north of the city that saw Union soldiers that summer and fall--like Ezra Church, Allatoona, Big Shanty, Cassville, Ringgold--and south of Atlanta, like Jonesboro, and on down to the coast, Fort McAllister, and Savannah. There was a strange jolt in feeling personally connected to the places I was learning about. Is this what everyone else gets in their stomachs when they learn about the history of their hometowns, or through discovering their genealogical history or researching old inhabitants and stories of their homes? I have clearly been missing out.

Suddenly I have a personal, vested interest in learning about Union General James McPherson and his efforts during the battles for Atlanta that resulted in a street named after him, as well as one of the few memorials to a Union soldier that stands in the South. All these things that happened, that Kennett talks about, culminating in the burning of Atlanta, happened where I live, and suddenly I see the use in having a real hometown. Not that I am really only just understanding this concept, but I did decide that perhaps Atlanta is fast becoming my hometown, if for no other reason than I will certainly know more about it than any other place very soon-- if I don't already. I am considering for my spring classes U.S. Cities and Metropolitan Atlanta both, which means a healthy dose of cities, and of this city. Not to mention, feeling a part of a city is most of what makes it your hometown anyway.

I also shall boldly say that Kennett's book is far and beyond one of the very best I've read on Georgia history, and especially on the Civil War. The sheer number of firsthand accounts he uses, while keeping the story readable and downright interesting is a true feat. His stories of General William T. Sherman, his soldiers, the Confederate generals (especially General John Bell Hood) and soldiers, and civilians--slave and free--who were affected told the story of the iconic Atlanta Campaign and the March to the Sea in a way that brought it to life.

I was most impressed with the way he portrays the experiences of the men on the battlefield, pointing out that the very lack of objectivity we sometimes dislike in war stories is in fact also quite useful in learning how battle was: "to anyone trying to construct battle as men experienced it, the way things seemed is in fact as important as the way they were."

Reading Kennett has given greater depth to a Civil War I have long known about, but have not seen in as many shades of gray. The “Civil War” quickly becomes a crystallized, invariable part of the American past to the average person, albeit an enormous piece of the narrative; Kennett’s foray beyond that hardened image adds those intricate shades, a contribution that proves helpful to every Georgian or interested reader who picks up the book. I definitely recommend it.

He also makes clear to me the immense accomplishment of Sherman and his men just making it to Atlanta, what with the rugged terrain and lack of useful maps; then again, the terrain across the country during their time is far beyond what I could conceive, and Atlanta hard to imagine then compared to my view today. All the more reason for me to keep learning about it. All the more reason it's time for another song about it, more reminiscent of what "Empire State of Mind" stirs in the heart about New York City's inspire power.

P.S. I'll start by visiting the Cyclorama. Never been.