Are You Ready for Some Sesquicentennial?

It may end up seeming as long as the Civil War itself.  We are warming up for the extended observance of the 150th anniversary of the War Between the States. (“Celebration” seems the wrong word when talking of an event that killed 600,000 Americans.) 

Today my gastroenterologist — yes, I have one, don’t you? — engaged me in a lively exchange concerning the Washington Post’s section in its Sunday paper about the Civil War Sesquicentennial.  The opening issue provided a listing of the war’s leading characters, which listed Stonewall Jackson before Robert E. Lee, and Walt Whitman several spaces ahead of William T. Sherman.  Refresh me:  which battles did General Whitman win?

Ah, politically correct comes to the Civil War.  Or is it just the Post’s ongoing, and increasingly poignant, loss of mojo?

The New York Times is devoting even more energy to covering the past.  Every week for the next 4+ years, the Times will feature a roundup of the leading events of the Civil War 150 years before, along with analyses and interpretations of what it all meant.  (Their exit polling for the 1860 balloting for president was eerily accurate, predicting that Lincoln would won!)

It seems the newspapers are fed up with being the “first rough draft of history.”  Now they’re going to try to be the last draft, too.  Maybe they’ll start getting things right?  At least they should get sued a lot less, since all of the key players are dead.

Grand Review of the Armies.jpg

This image allows you to peek ahead to the end of the war, as it depicts the Grand Review of the Armies held in Washington, DC in May 1865 in honor of the Union victory.  But no more peeking.  It will be four and one-half long years before we get there.

Until then, the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission aims to use this commemoration to bulk up the Old Dominion’s tourism industry.  They’ve also got items for you to buy, including books, lapel pins, and DVDs, and conferences for you to attend.  Because, although “Virginia is for Lovers,” it also has more Civil War battlefields than any other state!

There’s a lot of upcoming events to get excited about, but I have certainly circled the date of April 12 in Charleston, South Carolina, the anniversary of the shelling of Fort Sumter.  At 4 a.m. — yep, that’s not a typo — there will be a candlelight sunrise concert in White Point Gardens by the Charleston Symphony’s Brass Ensemble, to help us all remember the beginning of this vicious bloodletting that was begun by millions of Americans who insisted on the right to keep other millions of Americans as slaves. 

Time will tell whether the excitement over the sesquicentennial turns out to be real, or just a fantasy of some marketing people.  My bet is that it will turn out to be real.  Last night I spend a couple of hours with a Civil War book club at a local Barnes & Noble, talking about my book, Impeached.  There were about15 lively, engaged people there who knew a good deal of history and had read my book.  Not too shabby.  The Civil War just has an endless power to fascinate.

So no more snarky remarks from me about the Sesquicentennial.  Let’s go remember the brave and sometime appalling things that our forefathers did, and ponder what life was like then and how it shaped our lives now.  And if that involves buying a book or two along the way, what’s the harm?

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