Event Versus Process in the Sesquicentennial

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the day Confederate forces opened fire on a United States military installation, Fort Sumter, located in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.  But you all know that.  There are all sorts of events planned to commemorate that event.  Some events may even reflect on what happened and why.  However, it is one of the traps of commemoration that people tend to commemorate events rather than longer term processes.  True, we have had a small wave of conferences on the coming of the war, and we’ve had much discussion about the place of slavery in the public’s historical consciousness.  It will be interesting, however, to see whether examinations of theme and process hold their own as people look to commemorate the anniversaries of specific events.  Sometimes one can merge these approaches, and yet it’s also clear that many people are simply more interested in the military history of the war, going so far at times as to brush away discussion of why they fought in favor of why and how they fought here.  After all, most of the logos involving the sesquicentennial stress military themes or prominent individuals.

I understand that many people are interested in discussing the present state of understanding and interest among Americans when it comes to the Civil War.  I view the sesquicentennial as one large educational opportunity.  I’m more worried about how my students emerge from my class than how they enter it.  That will be the challenge of this sesquicentennial.

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7 thoughts on “Event Versus Process in the Sesquicentennial

  1. This line of thinking has occupied my thoughts as well the past few days. While it is hard not to turn to counterfactual history at times (what if the war had not happened), it is my vain hope that we use these next four years to better examine the war and its impact on American society, as well as its causes, rather than the concentration on military history. Yes, the battles are “sexy”, but so much more needs to be studied and discussed.

  2. I have low expectations, today on Chris Matthews I learned “Grant was drummed out of the Army for drinking” drummed out?
    and Rachel Maddow thinks there were Black Confederates. She even showed that picture of the sad sack demonstration unit that only really posed for that picture.
    \
    these aren’t rightwing lost causers and it shows revisionism is a problem from many diverse sources and not just the usual suspects like the SCV.

    • Ray, Rule one on ACW history, Non historians on TV shows or talk radio are not a good source of Civil War information. Two , groups like the SCV have their spin, so they are not a good source. Three , just reading one book by a good CW scholar alone is not a good source by itself . My opinion is read several books by different CW historians before coming to an conclusion .

      • no Charles they aren’t a good source, but they are a very visible source and readily believed by their as ill-informed audience.
        If Rachel Maddow says there were “Black Confederates” then her viewers will accept that. and all these types of shows of both right and left will weigh in and with shakey facts that are more geared to support their modern political agenda than to serve history..

        the Maddow “Black Confederate” moment came during a segment where she had Melissa Harris-Perry{ then Harris-Lacewell} on about how slaves built America. it’s going to take a brave scholar to refute such claims. just typing this bit makes me wonder if it will be taken the wrong way by some. I’m afraid we will have a revisionist carnival with it coming from everybody. but I see only the Lost Causers getting challenged on it.

  3. For years I had been interested in Civil War battles and those individuals associated with the war . That is until I took another Civil War course at a local university that stressed the political and social aspects of

  4. I sent it too early.

    ..that stressed the political and social aspects of the period. It was far more interesting and stimulating than battles, tactics, etc. Soon after I became associated with the Ulysses S. Grant Cottage on Mt. McGregor, north of Saratoga Springs, NY. It was there that Grant, dying of throat cancer, came and spent his last days ,and where he completed his personal memoirs. I then became more interested in his post war career and began to read more about his presidency, especially his role in the Reconstruction period. Each biography led me to read other historians and writers like Foner, Blight, and of course, Dr. Simpson. I followed online Dr. Blight’s course on the Civil War and Reconstruction and read what he was assigning to his students. In talking to visitors to Grant Cottage, I try to point out that Grant was more than a great general, he was a man who sincerely wanted to bind up the nation’s wounds but not at the expense of the newly freedmen. I like to also point out that his efforts were not in vain but that we are still building on the work that he began following the war.

  5. I used to be a Union Civil War reenactor. In my experience, I found that reenactors knew an enormous amount about battles but next to nothing about the other aspects of the Civil War. Most I encountered, both Union and Confederate, never discussed its causes or repercussions. They had no awareness of current interpretations of the war. Those I spoke to, with few exceptions, thought slavery played no more than a minor role.

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