Commemorating 1864

To date, each year of the Civil War Sesquicentennial has been fairly easy to figure out when it comes to events the have been commemorated. In 2011 we had Fort Sumter and First Manassas; for 2012 we had Antietam and emancipation; for 1863 there was Gettysburg followed by Vicksburg and Chattanooga. Several other events got some attention (such as Fredericksburg and the 1863 New York City draft riots), while others were overlooked or underreported (Shiloh and the Seven Days, for example). As expected, Gettysburg was the traditional high point, but it seems unfair to criticize every other event because it did not measure up to Gettysburg. Take Gettysburg away and we have a fairer idea of how the sesquicentennial’s been going.

Now we approach 2014. In Europe they are gearing up for the centennial of World War One (I’m surprised more attention hasn’t been paid to that, because there are some terribly interesting debates going on right now about public memory of that war, especially issues of causation and responsibility). In 2015 we’ll have Waterloo (I am hoping that the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College does not overlap with Waterloo, because I think it would be very interesting to compare Gettysburg 150 with Waterloo 200). Stateside 2015 will feature the fall of Richmond, Appomattox, and Lincoln’s assassination. But how do we approach 1864 in 2014?

Any ideas?


13 thoughts on “Commemorating 1864

  1. John Foskett January 12, 2014 / 9:16 am

    I’d have to give that more thought. 1864 was the year of the bloody “grind” when stalemate was in the air until things turned, beginning in September. Perhaps Lincoln’s overwhelming re-election only months after he had concluded that he was finished. As for WWI, I’m not surprised at the lack of attention on this side of the Pond. I saw a comment a few weeks back on another board about this subject – the commenter said “wake me up when it’s 2017”. The US was actually involved in fighting for only 6 months and the legacy of the war was a poorly-implemented peace, the rise of Lenin/Bolshevism in Russia, Hitler, and US isolationism. That’s a recipe for minimized interest in commemoration.

  2. Al Mackey January 12, 2014 / 10:23 am

    I’ve laid out the 1864 events that have been announced so far on a calendar. It’s just impossible for someone who has a day job to make them all, even if we’re only talking about the events in Virginia. I know you’re asking something deeper, though. When I think of 1864, I think of Grant, of Sherman, of blood, and of destruction. It’s a year of massive casualties. It’s a year when the war is fully transformed from conciliation to conquest. It’s the dark year when men had to be fed into the grinder of war in order to achieve victory. Grant moving by the left flank, Sherman moving by the right flank. Both moving inexorably to the cities of Richmond, Petersburg, Atlanta, and Savannah. Lee and Johnston parrying those moves with moves of their own. Three of those movements would result in sieges, and so 1864 would, more than 1863, also be a year of trenches.

  3. Lyle Smith January 12, 2014 / 10:48 am

    The bicentennial of the Battle of New Orleans is coming up in less than a year’s time as well. Will Andrew Jackson be seen as a hero or villain now?

    I’m quite interested in the centennial of World War I. I’ll be trying to follow it from the German perspective as much as possible. There are poignant yet subtle memorials to their fallen all over Germany. The University of Bonn, for example, chiseled the name of its fallen students into the arch of the main gateway into their central building.

    I’m remembering 1864 by reading Gordon Rhea’s series of books that cover the Wilderness to Cold Harbor. Last year I read up on the Atlanta campaign. Maybe this year I’ll celebrate Sherman’s March by reading up on it. I guess I also need to read up on the Red River campaign, the Camden expedition, the fall of Mobile, and Price’s Missouri raid. The movie Lincoln was a celebration of 1864 in some ways.

    • I M Klewliss January 14, 2014 / 6:48 am

      Had the Union not won, Germany wouldn’t have dared to fight its own wars of unification. Therefore no WW1. As a result of that no WW2, at least not the one that eventually swallowed up civilization.

  4. Don January 12, 2014 / 2:41 pm

    Franklin and Nashville

  5. Bob Nelson January 12, 2014 / 5:21 pm

    1864, IMO, is the year the Federal government won the war. 1865, other than Lincoln’s assassination and the final surrender of the Confederate armies, is largely a postscript. There’s much to talk about in 1864 — Sheridan’s victories in the Shenandoah Valley, the fall of Atlanta, the March to the Sea, Petersburg, Northern determination to keep fighting in spite of staggering casualties in the Overland Campaign and Lincoln’s reelection. Still, if 1863 with Gettysburg, Vicksburg and the EP only managed a tiny “play” in the press — I only saw a couple of pieces in the newspaper or on local news on Gettysburg and the Emancipation Proclamation (not much more on CNN or the other big players) — 1864 will largely be a non-event in the sesquicentennial, which I think is mighty sad as I believe (as you and others do) that the CW defined us as a country more than any other event. It’s just that the “man-on-the-street” in 2014 America could care less.

  6. bryanac625 January 12, 2014 / 7:24 pm

    “1864 will largely be a non-event in the sesquicentennial, which I think is mighty sad.”

    1864 is, I think, the forgotten year of the Civil War. It’s long after Gettysburg and too far away from Appomattox.

    As for the War of 1812 Bicentennial, I think there will be a big commemoration for the Star Spangled Banner’s 200th this year. And for New Orleans next year. But I think that will be it. Most of the War of 1812 is an embarrassment, at least on the this side of Niagara Falls.

    I don’t know about the WWI Centennial but don’t forget- this year is the 75th anniversary of the beginning of WWII.

  7. Noma January 12, 2014 / 8:25 pm

    It seems like it will be problematic. Neither Sherman’s march to the sea nor Grant’s overland campaign and siege of Petersburg are very very marketable.

    I noticed that last summer with Gettysburg vs Vicksburg. Gettysburg was much more marketable: a three day battle, in which the Confederates invaded the North, and got soundly trounced by Yankees defending their homeland.

    Vicksburg? A long 6 month campaign, including a 2 month siege of a large civilian population. And you are trying to sell it to people whose ancestors were besieged. It’s a very hard sell. From a distance, it appeared that the Park Service had to do some delicate maneuvering in its commemoration. To me, the shocking scene was when the Union forces took down the Confederate flag, to replace it with the U.S. flag. The reenactor playing Grant had his Grant character request everyone to salute and honor the Confederate flag as it was being lowered. I was stunned, but when I thought about it, I thought, well, what was he supposed to do — considering the local audience.

    Similarly, I expect that events of 1864 will be commemorated with a large degree of adjustment so as not to offend the local population with reminders of the expensive Union victory 150 years ago.

    Nevertheless, it would be great to see a reenactment of Grant crossing the James River this coming June…

  8. Mark January 12, 2014 / 8:29 pm

    >> Now we approach 2014. In Europe they are gearing up for the centennial of World War One (I’m surprised more attention hasn’t been paid to that, because there are some terribly interesting debates going on right now about public memory of that war, especially issues of causation and responsibility).

    I don’t think it is really surprising all considered. The public memory has to do with causes, and the possible causes of WWI are necessarily very broad and general. The broad and general are very much more interesting, but, in a certain way counterintuitively, more difficult to think about. I think that as much as the crowd on this blog gets into the intricacies of the causes of the American CW, the same study as to the causes of WWI require even more because they are transnational. Fewer still have have the stamina to master the difficulties of understanding the causes of WWI. BTW, I look forward to reading Max Hastings’ Catastrophe 1914. So many misconceptions about WWI.

  9. Michael Martorelli January 13, 2014 / 12:10 pm

    I’ve always been interested in the political aspects of the Civil War. So I’m planning to attend Troy Harman’s talk in March about the Congressional hearings (Spring 1984) on Meade’s conduct at Gettysburg.

  10. neukomment January 13, 2014 / 7:22 pm

    Did the military tactics and strategy of the later part of the Civil War (1864-1865) really anticipate the trench warfare and all of its brutality as experienced on the Western front in WW-I? If so, how and why, and in what ways not? Perhaps this would be a good year to bring that question up for discussion again, I suspect though it is a question and discussion that would not arouse a lot of interest in the public mind at large….

  11. I M Klewliss January 14, 2014 / 6:43 am

    It’s about the first tattooed, bespectacled white hipster couple to move into a hardcore urban jungle, and the daily adventures they have. What fun! First, you see them arrive in their Prius (complete with Obama, Coexist and DeBlasio stickers), followed by a moving truck. They say hello to the first black person they meet; they are greeted with a flying malt liquor bottle. While one “nice” jig distracts them, half their shit is stolen out of the back of the truck. The next day, their Prius is gone. Gunshots pop in the distance …

    Then it’s time to do some shopping! They soon discover that the Korean-owned corner store doesn’t carry any non-GMO produce or vegan soy products. While paying for their overpriced ravioli in a can (the closest thing to real food a ghetto convenience store sells), their iPhone is swiped. It’s getting dark, and on the walk home, they notice more and more young males on the sidewalks, leering at them and grabbing their genitals. They make it back to their 400-square foot love nest, only to find the door has been pried open, and the OTHER half of their shit has been stolen … and someone took a dump on the carpet!

  12. Bob Nelson January 14, 2014 / 6:11 pm

    You’ll love this, Brooks. One of the “Double Jeopardy” categories on tonight’s show was “Civil War 1864.” All three players ducked the category entirely until the very end when it was the only one left. The $400 question dealt with Andersonville. What state was it in? Nobody had a clue. “Georgia.” One guy guessed Tennessee. Wrong. They never got to the rest. Which, whether you like it or not, agree or disagree, the Civil War is largely not of interest to “the man on the street.” Sad, but true.

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