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.