T&W writer Sarah Porter collaborated with teachers and seventh-graders of Hudson Cliffs School through several writing projects designed to elicit creative and critical responses to the history of the Civil War. In order to overcome the conceptual distance that makes viewpoints held in the past seem nearly unfathomable, students read two primary sources from the period: “The Dying Confederate’s Last Words,” a remarkably toxic and disingenuous piece of Southern propaganda; and Walt Whitman’s moving poem “Ashes of Soldiers.” In response to the former, students imagined themselves traveling back in time to confront the dying Confederate. The latter, in which Whitman begs the ghosts of the Civil War to haunt him for the rest of his life, introduced a project in which students envisioned a Civil War haunting of their own.
Civil War Allegory
by Lila (7th grade)
My grass is dying. A once-healthy soil is having a long-coming drought. My life’s changed. Everything is different. I’m scared of who I am and of what is to come.
“Things should remain. We have a classic and timeless culture! Great things come with sacrifice.”
“Timeless? We haven’t been here very long. Liberty and the pursuit of happiness are a joke. Our recent movement has been to allow all men of one color to vote on one corrupt leader after the next. The human spectrum can now be cut to our whims. We abuse people and their labor, and abuse them yet again to create more farming tools.”
“Yet the American spirit was created for and from rebelling. Now we must keep things as they are? Where’s the American spirit? It may never have existed to begin with. We are a joke. England practically abandoned us. We fought for our mere existence. Yet we should’ve stabbed ourselves with a bayonet.”
Stop bickering! I am merely the land that sees. Get out of my head! I grab onto the earth to see myself. I can barely recognize myself. These bodies are suffocating my roots.
“We’ll put ourselves together again! Even better than before! Will continue things as they were. A small bump in history, if you will.”
“Oh? Others face inequality. We will never be free. We will slip yet again into the fog of bombs.”
“The majority is to rule! One slightly immoral institution will not pull us into the abyss separating humanity from animals.”
Yet we can’t recognize ourselves anymore. There is no difference. America, where are you? Gone. I was never there.
Ghosts of the Civil War
Hudson Cliffs School, Manhattan
Edited by Sarah Porter, Teaching Artist