Civil War Sesquicentennial Fast Approaching

I am counting down the days for Wednesday’s much-anticipated inaugural event of the Civil War Sesquicentennial.  Virginia is far ahead of the pack in organizing events for this 4-year commemoration.  In fact, we are so far ahead that we extended the time line to include events marking the lead up to the war.  On Wednesday, April 29, 2,000 people from all over the country will converge on the University of Richmond for a day-long conference that addresses various aspects of life in the United States on the eve of the war.  Edward L. Ayers, who is the president of the university, as well as the organizer of the event, promises lively discussion along the lines of a format that we’ve come to know all so well in his scholarship:

We have the opportunity to look at this with a fresh eye.  Let’s enter into a conversation with these people of the past and understand just what they were thinking. How was it they could end up killing people that were their neighbors?

As I mentioned before, I will be attending this conference as something along the lines of an official blogger.  I will have full media access and will view the day’s proceedings from a media booth with the Washington Post, AP, Richmond Times-Dispatch, etc.  You will have a chance to view a live webcast and ask questions of the panelists through my blog.  [I recently read that VMI is also organizing a live webcast of the event on their campus.]  My plan is to live blog, Twitter, and take some video so you should expect constant updates in the form of commentary, interview, and images.  I will also be hosting The Educator’s Affinity Group Lunch for teachers who are interested in networking and discussing the morning sessions.  This promises to be an educational and fun day and I encourage all of you to take part.

I leave you with some thoughts from a few of the panelists:

Charles B. Dew, professor of American history at Williams College in Massachusetts, said southerners have been unwilling to confront a prewar economy based on slavery while northerners have sought to blot out memories of their own “profoundly racist” society.  “Americans, like most people, want a usable past. They want it to make sense,“ Dew said.  The conference, he said, is an opportunity “for shining some light in some of the darker corners in Virginia, and by extension, Southern history in a very critical moment.”

As president of the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar in Richmond, Christy S. Coleman makes it her mission to offer a more complex, layered view of the conflict. The roles of women on the homefront and suffragists who began their activism in the anti-slavery movement are rarely told, she said.   “These women not only advocated for freedom of the enslaved, but began to tie the issue to the lack of freedom that women had in the nation,“ she said.

Manisha Sinha, an associate professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said the role of black Americans is especially overshadowed in the “whitewashed version — literally and figuratively — of the war itself and its consequences.“  “It’s about time when we talk about the Civil War in the South that we take into perspective not just the views of white southerners but also of black southerners,“ she said.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

3 comments… add one
  • Bob Pollock Apr 27, 2009 @ 13:12

    By the way, Larry, you have me curious who your “colleague” is.

  • Bob Pollock Apr 27, 2009 @ 13:05


    I know you have had posts regarding the sesquicentennial and planning (or lack thereof) previous to this. I have been reluctant to comment as I am not directly involved in planning activities, but I was aware of some of what is happening here in Missouri. When I read Larry’s comment I asked Pam Sanfilippo, Site Historian here at U. S. Grant National Historic Site, if she would write a response, since she was asked to spearhead planning for the Midwest Region of NPS. She has already spent countless hours working on this. Here is her response:

    St. Louis area historic sites, museums, parks, universities, cemeteries, reenactment groups, chapters of the UDC, DUV, SCV, and other Civil War related organizations are in the midst of planning commemorative activities. Currently, themes have been developed and plans are underway for signature events and related activities.

    In 2011, the theme will be Prelude to War, and will include an encampment, with presentations on Camp Jackson, Dred and Harriet Scott, Elijah Lovejoy, and Mary Meachum.
    The Soldier’s Experience will be the focus in 2012, with training of troops at Jefferson Barracks, and a symposium on “Black and Red” troops recruited in the West. Guerrilla Warfare, the Carondelet Shipyards, medicine and nursing will also be highlighted.
    The theme for 2013 will be the Politics of War, led by a symposium organized by Dr. Louis Gerteis, a noted Civil War and St. Louis historian. Subjects might include martial law, the oath of allegiance, guerrilla warfare, Civil War outlaws, prisons and spies.
    The Homefront is the theme for 2014, with a signature event being a reenactment of the 1864 Sanitary Fair held in St. Louis, with funds raised in part for today’s military. Other topics include women’s life, religious life, and numerous house tours.
    For 2015, it’s Reunion and Legacy, to include cemetery tours, Memorial Day events, Missouri’s new Constitution in 1865, and then addressing the Civil Rights Movement as a legacy of the unfinished work of Reconstruction.
    Details are still being worked out, with commitees assigned to each year’s activities. In addition, U. S. Grant NHS is spearheading NPS efforts for the sesquicentennial in the Midwest, with partners in 19 states. The theme is Civil War to Civil Rights, and will address the nation’s history from the antebellum period through the modern Civil Rights Movement. This area is the ideal place to discuss these issues from the Missouri Compromise through the Civil War, and Brown v. Board of Education and Central High School in Little Rock, AR. You can contact Pam Sanfilippo at for additional information or to volunteer.

  • Larry Cebula Apr 27, 2009 @ 9:40

    I wonder what is happening in my former home of Missouri? My colleague there who taught and has published in Civil War topics was asked to be on a local committee. The organizer explained that they did not want to get too academic in their commemorations, and that if people said that such-and-such happened in the area that was good enough. She demurred from participating.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *