(June 28, 2017) In a Civil War book of essays to be released in September the Executive Director of the Georgia Historical Society (GHS), Dr. Todd Groce, may be libeling former President Jimmy Carter. Specifically, he claims that President Carter asked the GHS to either correct, or move, the March to the Sea historical marker that Groce placed on the grounds of the Carter Center (pictured below) unless it was corrected “to reflect a more traditional Lost Cause interpretation.”
Since I was involved in the incident I suspect that Groce’s explanation for Carter’s request is phony. Instead I believe the President wanted to change the marker’s text in order to correct a false implication. Specifically, the phrase “After destroying Atlanta’s industrial and business (but not residential) districts” erroneously suggests that Sherman’s army did not burn residential structures in Atlanta during the evacuation preceding the March to the Sea.
The Groce-Carter episode traces its roots to November 14, 2014 when the New York Times Disunion blog published my “Who burned Atlanta?” article which provided several examples of burning in the residential districts shortly before the March to the Sea. When I read an article a few days later about the marker dedication, I wrote Groce a postal letter explaining his error and asking that he correct it. I also suggested the he refer to fellow-Georgian Steve Davis’s then newly minted What the Yankees Did to Us, which may be the most authoritative book on Atlanta’s burning.
Since Groce never responded, I wrote the GHS Board Chairman. He also never replied. Finally, I wrote President Carter, who didn’t know me from Charlie Chan. To my delightful surprise, he replied “I agree with you” and asked for Groce’s contact information.
Groce’s remarks in the forthcoming September book appear to be misleading, if not downright false, in at least two ways. First, if President Carter relied upon my letters, his objections were about the residential burnings in Atlanta and not the March to the Sea. Second, Groce’s use of the term “Lost Cause” is objectionable because among academics it has evolved into code phrase for a school of “fake history” that is held partly responsible for perpetuating racism. Due to President Carter’s persistent civil rights advocacy, Dr. Groce’s attempt to link him with a putative racist label is shameful.