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Redeeming the Cyclorama: Why the century-old attraction is anything but a monument to the Confederacy
Conceived in Chicago, created in Milwaukee, and premiered in Minneapolis, the Cyclorama was meant to celebrate the Union’s great triumph in capturing Atlanta and hastening the end of the Civil War. But when the painting moved South, new audiences flipped its meaning, bastardizing the spectacle into a testament to white Southern pride. For decades, it was a masterpiece of misinterpretation. Now, it has a new life at the Atlanta History Center.
From Native Americans to the Civil War to 70s communes, this Sandy Springs house has a fascinating past.
For eight hours on the blazing day of July 22, 1864, 74,000 young men fought on the rolling terrain of southeast Atlanta. As the cannon smoke cleared and each side retreated, the four-mile-long field of combat held the bodies of more than 12,000 dead or wounded soldiers. The Battle of Atlanta was by no means the biggest or bloodiest of the Civil War, but it played a crucial role in bringing the conflict to an end.
I’ve lived in the South for fourteen years—most of my adult life, it turns out—but because I wasn’t born here, or even raised here, I will never be considered of the South. My children will, however, and as they grow older I am curious to see how their consciousness and their identity are shaped by the legacy of this place. The joke (okay, the sad truth) about Atlanta is that there is no part of our history we won’t bulldoze over, but all the cranes and concrete and construction can never totally obscure the psychic fallout of what happened here 150 years ago, when the Battle of Atlanta presaged the end of the Confederacy.
“The Battle of Atlanta” sounds pretty definitive. And it’s understandable that the average person, not steeped in Civil War martial minutia, might consider this to be the dramatic and fiery destruction of the city (i.e. that famous flaming scene in Gone with the Wind.) But in fact, the battle waged in Atlanta on July 22, 1864 was just one step of the Atlanta Campaign, a months-long effort that didn’t reach its blazing conclusion until the fall.