Did Massachusetts Participate in the Civil War?

Of course, it’s a silly question, but I do have a point.  Last week an AP story on the challenges of commemorating the Civil War in Mississippi was picked up by news organizations across the country.  No one will deny that there are plenty of landmines to negotiate, but I am impressed by what is taking place.  Mississippians are exploring their past.

More to the point, the “angst-filled” state of Mississippi is doing a hell of a lot more than my new home of Massachusetts, which just recently established a Civil War sesquicentennial commission.  Other than the website, however, there is no activity to report.  This is unfortunate since we are approaching a crucial time in our sesquicentennial remembrance in which Massachusetts played a key role.  Surely the state can find the resources to organize some type of event to mark the raising of the first black soldiers as well as other key moments in the state’s Civil War past.

As someone new to the state I certainly understand the place of the Revolution in our popular imagination, but there is plenty to learn and to commemorate from that Second American Revolution.

9 comments… add one
  • Don Shaffer Sep 5, 2012 @ 18:12

    Dear Kevin: did the fact Massachusetts just recently established their sesquicentennial commission have anything to do with the recession? Before relocating to Arizona in 2010, I was appointed to Iowa’s sesquicentennial commission in late 2008. We held exactly one meeting in April 2009, and then nothing after that. There certainly was interest by the commission members, but we had no money because with the state budget cuts it was an easy item for the good folks in the legislature to excise. It was impossible to do anything meaningful without money.


    • Kevin Levin Sep 6, 2012 @ 2:36

      Good question, Don. I just don’t know enough about the formation of this group. It definitely took me by surprise.

  • Dan Weinfeld Aug 19, 2012 @ 17:16

    I don’t think there’s much interest in the north east, outside of a small enthusiastic core. I’m co-directing a new Civil War speaker’s series in White Plains, NY that we started in April. Our county of almost 1 million people has nothing similar: the local CW Roundtable has been defunct for years. There are two groups in Manhattan, but I’ve been to both and didn’t get the sense that many suburbanites are there. We’ve had some good speakers, but our best turn out has been about 25 people (including the organizers’ friends and families). I’ve lobbied my neighbors and friends – all educated, professionals – and I find they have little interest.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 19, 2012 @ 17:19

      Hi Dan,

      I am thinking way beyond a speakers series. There are so many thing that a state commission can do for the benefit of the public. I also think we should steer clear of measuring enthusiasm by how many people show up for a formal talk.

      • Dan Weinfeld Aug 20, 2012 @ 9:35

        I was thinking beyond my narrow example too, but thought it was an instructive point. In my experience growing up and going to college in Massachusetts, I learned very little about the Civil War. I can’t remember it being taught in high school AP classes (though I’m sure it was). Even at college, David Donald (co-teaching that year with Jean Baker) spent lots of time on causes, some time on the home front, then Reconstruction, and deliberately skipped any discussion of the war itself. (He did suggest “The Killer Angels” as optional reading). My point is that there is very little teaching of the war, and because there is very little awareness, there is probably no constituency in Mass. demanding that the state allocate resources to marking the 150th. In NY, I think there is slightly more interest, but still it’s a very small core of individuals and consequently there little incentive for public officials to budget for commemoration.

  • Pat Young Aug 19, 2012 @ 14:29

    2011 was marked by a number of events in New York, but this year seems to have had a big fall off. Still not sure why emancipation was not made the major focus for the year.

  • Matt McKeon Aug 19, 2012 @ 13:37

    The Mass. Historical Societly is doing some programming…..

    A crazy lady “marked” the occasion at the Shaw Memorial.

    No, not much here.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 19, 2012 @ 14:09

      They are working on their second Civil War exhibit and will host a conference next spring. The Boston Public Library sponsored a successful speaker series around the sesquicentennial.

  • Mark Pethke Aug 19, 2012 @ 13:07

    Louisiana’s keeping it quiet too–at least Massachusetts has a website. The bicentennial of joining the U.S. in 1812 is attracting more attention, and even that is fairly subdued. Evidently the state doesn’t have much to consider regarding the Civil War . . .

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