The Sesquicentennial’s Impact

What impact did the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War have upon our understanding of the war and its significance? In years to come, what will historians of Civil War memory have to say about the sesquicentennial?

You tell me.

36 thoughts on “The Sesquicentennial’s Impact

  1. Jeffry Burden December 24, 2015 / 9:45 am

    To answer the second question: they will say that, given the generally low level of interest and historical knowledge across the broad spectrum of Americans, it was a notably thoughtful process for those who wanted to engage, largely free of the kind of rah-rah Lost Cause b.s. that marred the Centennial observance.

  2. Richard December 24, 2015 / 12:44 pm

    I suspect the discussions over Confederat e flags and monuments will be tied to the sesquicentennial due to the close timing (decades from now it may not matter that the Charleston shooting took place a couple of months after thev150th of Appomattox). Whatever continues to happen in the next couple of years will be seen as having started right as the sesquicentennial ended. Saying the next few years will be a “sesquicentennial of Reconstruction” is probably hyperbole but the attention paid to these Confederate images and how people, not just white Confederate sympathizes, now view such symbols, may be viewed as the 150’s legacy.

  3. Rick Whaley December 24, 2015 / 1:43 pm

    The sesquicentennial of the Civil War was, for the most part, a mixed bag. The amount of recent Civil War scholarship made into books available to the public was impressive. Dedicated readers were confronted with new views on studies involving the home front, the politics of the war, and on the end of the school of thought that held the war was just a misunderstanding between brothers. The theory of state rights was likewise exposed for the myth–or lie–that it was and is; in both cases state rights is used as a cover for American racism and, as it is today, a nice dodge for voter suppression.

    Those are positive consequences of the sesquicentennial. The negatives depended on where you were geographically. Public participation was hit and miss. Largely because of a lack of dialog between historians and local agencies, including government, k-12 schools, and public events focused on community involvement in the war. Coordination of events was, at all levels, was hit and miss. No one would argue the debacle of 1960-1965 was comparable to the Civil War’s sesquicentennial, but I think we could agree that the nation could have done better.

    Let’s hope that the next time around they put a lot more oomph into the process.

    • OhioGuy December 24, 2015 / 10:36 pm

      “The theory of state rights was likewise exposed for the myth–or lie–that it was and is; in both cases state rights is used as a cover for American racism and, as it is today, a nice dodge for voter suppression.”

      While I agree with most of what you say here, the implied comparison between true voter suppression as imposed by the KKK and kindred groups at the end of Reconstruction and for a number of years thereafter with modern-day efforts to require photo IDs to vote borders on the ludicrous. Furthermore it is an effront to the memories of those African Americans who literally risked life and limb to vote in those days of Redeemer governments and white supremacy rule.

  4. Ian December 25, 2015 / 1:08 pm

    Too many books on Custer.

  5. Ken Noe December 25, 2015 / 1:30 pm

    Last spring I thought that the legacy would be the new interpretations and approaches that had emerged. Now, though, it’s hard to imagine future historians focusing on anything other than the national pushback against Confederate-friendly history that began with the Charleston secession ball and entered warp speed in the same city last summer. But it’s also important, I think, that so much of the 150th took place online, away from traditional sites and venues. Counting attendance figures will only tell part of the story.

  6. Derek December 26, 2015 / 12:59 am

    I was disappointed at the number of African-Americans in attendance at the 150 at Antietam given it was the battle that gave us the Emancipation Proclamation. On the other hand, I was impressed by the number of African-American kids in attendance at Hallowed Ground summer camps this last summer, see http://www.hallowedground.org/.

  7. bob carey December 26, 2015 / 4:22 am

    I was hoping that the 150th would inspire more interest among the younger generations. Those of us who have the “bug” ,as my wife calls it”, seem to be graying gracefully. The events I attended and those I watched on-line had audiences predominantly of the 50 plus age bracket this was disappointing.
    I wonder if anyone has done a study on the membership of roundtables and such groups during the past 5 years as to demographics, this might be interesting.
    On the bright side I think that the 150th has corrected alot of misconceptions, such as the “Lost Cause” among the non-professional Civil War enthusiast. The rank and file Union soldier was for the first time, in my lifetime, given equal footing with his Confederate counterpart in regards to skill and courage.
    Finally, I think US Grant’s reputation has been restored somewhat, not to the level of the late 19th century but the highest its been in the last 100 years.

  8. OhioGuy December 26, 2015 / 3:16 pm

    All excellent points, Bob.

  9. OhioGuy December 26, 2015 / 3:29 pm

    My CWRT has an average age of 60+, but we do have a few regular attenders in their 40s. And, we recently added a young history professor to our Steering Committee. We have had history students make presentations at our meetings, so we are trying to involve younger folks, but much more needs to be done on this score.

  10. lunchcountersitin December 27, 2015 / 9:57 am

    I thought that the state of Virginia was an exemplar of how Sesquicentennial commemoration should be done, and I give the state kudos for their many efforts.

    Looking at the states of Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi from afar, it seems to me that they could have, and should have, done more during the period. I don’t get the impression that African Americans in those states were at all engaged in developing events that would draw attention or visitors. But I am viewing things from afar (Wash, DC).

    I would just note that although Louisiana provided more black soldiers to the Union than any other state – many of them from the New Orleans area – there is only one monument to colored soldiers in the entire state, in Donaldsonville. It would have been nice if this situation had been improved during the Sesqui, but it didn’t happen.

    I think the absence of memorials to black/Union soldiers or civilians is related to the anger at Confederate monuments in general. The commemorative landscape is so unbalanced. It seems that “Civil War commemoration” = “Confederate commemoration.” Many folks want to just remove Confederate monuments, they don’t imagine an integrated landscape that includes black or Union soldiers. Too bad.

    – Alan Skerrett

    • OhioGuy December 27, 2015 / 2:08 pm

      “I think the absence of memorials to black/Union soldiers or civilians is related to the anger at Confederate monuments in general. The commemorative landscape is so unbalanced. It seems that “Civil War commemoration” = “Confederate commemoration.” Many folks want to just remove Confederate monuments, they don’t imagine an integrated landscape that includes black or Union soldiers. Too bad.” — A great point, well stated.

      • bob carey December 28, 2015 / 4:14 am

        OG,
        I concur.
        Perhaps a monument in DC representing Black and White Union soldiers together showing the common cause of their endeavors.

        • OhioGuy December 28, 2015 / 9:22 am

          Yes, and don’t forget the many white officers who volunteered to lead black troops. I recently saw the figure and it astounded me. From memory, it was something like seven volunteers for each open slot. These men showed at least as much courage as the African Amercan enlisted men they led.

  11. Sherree December 28, 2015 / 6:59 am

    What future historians of Civil War memory will have to say about the Sesquicentennial will depend upon how current events play out, since each generation rewrites history in its own image, to some degree. Hopefully, there will be a positive outcome and a powerful, constructive narrative of US history will emerge. The story of the Sesquicentennial will be told against a rich background in which the nation was undergoing tremendous change, just as it did during the Centennial, but this time change of a different nature–change that involved the repudiation of cherished narratives and the election of the first African American President of the United States. The massacre in Charleston will be seen as the culminating event that forever sounded the death knell of the Lost Cause view of the war. Widespread availability of information due to the technological advance of the Internet will be seen as the tool that moved new narratives forward due to the sheer weight of accessible, undeniable evidence, preventing not only massacres from being displaced, but entire narratives. Finally, the Sesquicentennial and events surrounding it will become the reason we finally have a National Museum of Slavery, so that regional and local narratives develop as they will, but the final word comes from a national coalition and consensus.

  12. Eric A. Jacobson December 30, 2015 / 6:45 am

    My opinion is framed and impacted by my work at a Civil War battlefield site, but based on what I heard and learned from guests, it boils down to several key things:

    1. The average person interested in the war is not solely interested in military action(s) and relics. If historic sites don’t recognize this and adapt they will suffer declining interest.

    2. The long ignored issue of slavery and its central impact on secession, and thus the war, is no longer ignored.

    3. The roughly century old Confederate dogma and mythology has rapidly receded. The average tourist, or guest, and casual Civil War related reader, has no time for it any longer. They simply want the truth. The 150th cemented that, and in my opinion, we will look back on the past several years as the time when the “Confederate first” tide was finally shattered. The Lost Cause created it, it was strengthened for decades, it started to show cracks in the late 80s and early 90s, and it finally collapsed as we collectively commemorated the Sesquicentennial.

  13. Steve "Southern by the grace of God" Overton December 30, 2015 / 1:03 pm

    You folks certainly are a delight to read.
    “The final word coming from a national…consensus.” “Confederate dogma and mythology has rapidly receded.” “…Charleston…sounded the death knell of the lost cause.” So-called national consensus was and is part of the problem. Confederate truth, (dogma to you,) is alive and well here in federally controlled Alabama. And, if the Charleston shooter had been within arm’s reach of me and mine, he would still be rotting on the end of the rope. For desecrating a house of worship in such a manner, misappropriation of OUR flag, and-most importantly-the taking of innocent lives.

    With every monument taken down, a private citizen raises the stars and bars. The landscape here is BREATHTAKING! Keep up the good work!🙂

    • Brooks D. Simpson December 30, 2015 / 1:44 pm

      I thought such a loyal advocate of Confederate heritage would know the diffidence between the “Stars and Bars” and the Confederate Battle Flag. Guess not.

      • OhioGuy December 30, 2015 / 2:43 pm

        +1

        There is more emotion than logic with these folks, and many of them haven’t had a whole lot of book larning. If they did they might know the shame attached to the CBF. The South Carolina Legislature certainly got the memo. It was about a century and a half late, but better late than never. I’ve traveled a great deal in the South in recent years, and it’s my distinct impression that these heritage folks are a shrinking minority. For every CBF they put up, there are ten folks who think they are complete nut jobs.

      • bob carey December 30, 2015 / 3:30 pm

        Dr. Simpson;
        Permit me to go a bit off topic:
        I, for one, am sick and tired of these “heritage” types invoking God and Christianity into just about every debate that occurs on this and other blogs.
        If God was on the side of the Confederacy than why did they lose so completely?
        By the way, how many slaves did Christ own?
        Sorry about going off topic but I had to get that off my chest.

    • Sherree December 31, 2015 / 4:16 am

      Steve,

      You have said that Dylann Roof misappropriated your flag. The SCV has said the same thing. Perhaps you are a member of the SCV? The SCV has also distanced itself from other groups that claim the Confederate flag as their own, implying that those groups have misappropriated their flag. Whose flag is it? What does it represent? Do you support the white nationalist groups that claim the flag as theirs as well? There is a member of the UDC who contributes to this blog. Read what she has to say in the comment section. She has integrity. You might learn from her.

      You claim that you are a Christian. While it is admirable that you do not support the murder of men and women in their house of worship, or anywhere else I presume, where does it say in the Bible, King James version included, that Christians are to avenge misdeeds? “Vengeance is mine,” the Lord said. Remember that quote from Scripture? Is that how you want to represent your region and your faith? If so, then rock on, because the rest of us in the South are done with your point of view–have been done with it for years–and we are ready to move on. There is a whole new world out there just waiting to be rediscovered for the entire nation and for the South, too–the white and black South. Make sure you know who your ancestors were, because you just might find out that some of them were Southern Unionists and that the Confederates you uphold were their enemies. It’s possible. Also, move over with Robert E Lee so that the rest of us can get a look at James Longstreet.

      Happy New Year to you, and Happy New Year to Dr. Simpson and his readers.

      • OhioGuy December 31, 2015 / 9:08 am

        Sherree, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Great post!

        In terms of having Unionists in the closet, that’s an interesting phenomenon that many in the neo-Confederate movement should research more fully. I can only remember one southern politician who admitted publicly that his direct ancestors were Unionist. That was Lamar Alexander when he was running for the Republican nomination for president. It was a sit-down interview on PBS, as I recall. His family was from east Tennessee, which of course was a hotbed of unionism.

        In addition to your suggestion of studying James Longstreet, I would add John Singleton Mosby, who spent a great deal of his post-war career trying unsuccessfully to derail the development of the Lost Cause mythology. He was an interesting man who personally opposed slavery, but fought to defend the institution because he was loyal to his state. After the war, he held no quarter for those who tried to paint the insurrection as based on anything other than the desire to protect the peculiar institution.

        For the record, I’m a card-carrying member of the Longstreet Society and the Grant Monument Association.

        • Sherree December 31, 2015 / 8:08 pm

          Ohio Guy,

          Thank you for the suggestion about Mosby. I will add him to the list of study.

          Believe it or not, I never even heard of James Longstreet until I started reading CW blogs.

          Happy New Year to you! Thanks for standing up for “hillbillies”!

          • Sherree January 1, 2016 / 9:00 am

            A New Year’s greeting for neo Confederates from a real Confederate concerning the cause of the Civil War:

            A former Confederate officer on slavery and the Civil War, 1907

            A primary source by John S. Mosby

            View this item in the Collection.

            Letter from John S. Mosby to Sam Chapman, June 4, 1907. (GLC03921.21p1)
            Letter from John S. Mosby to Sam Chapman, June 4, 1907. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

            Excerpt

            “I wrote you about my disgust at reading the Reunion speeches: It has since been increased by reading Christians report. I am certainly glad I wasn’t there. According to Christian the Virginia people were the abolitionists & the Northern people were pro-slavery. He says slavery was ‘a patriarchal’ institution – So were polygamy & circumcision. Ask Hugh if he has been circumcised. Christian quotes what the Old Virginians – said against slavery. True; but why didn’t he quote what the modern Virginians said in favor of it – Mason, Hunter, Wise &c. Why didn’t he state that a Virginia Senator (Mason) was the author of the Fugitive Slave law – & why didn’t he quote The Virginia Code (1860) that made it a crime to speak against slavery, or to teach a negro to read the Lord’s prayer. Now while I think as badly of slavery as Horace Greeley did I am not ashamed that my family were slaveholders. It was our inheritance – Neither am I ashamed that my ancestors were pirates & cattle thieves. People must be judged by the standard of their own age. If it was right to own slaves as property it was right to fight for it. The South went to war on account of Slavery. South Carolina went to war – as she said in her Secession proclamation – because slavery wd. not be secure under Lincoln. South Carolina ought to know what was the cause for her seceding. . . . I am not ashamed of having fought on the side of slavery – a soldier fights for his country – right or wrong – he is not responsible for the political merits of the cause he fights in. The South was my country.”

            While I do not agree with Mosby’s conclusion, I respect his candor. And, I recognize his voice. There is the missing link as far as part of my own personal ancestral history goes, and this is just scratching the surface. Men (and women) in my family who thought like Mosby went on to fight Jim Crow and to work at the local level for civil rights, coal miners, and the AFL-CIO. I used to listen to them argue down to the bone issues we are still dealing with today. Thanks, OG. Truly.

          • OhioGuy January 1, 2016 / 1:46 pm

            There are a lot more interesting Mosby quotes. Here’s one from Mosby to a man named Gaston, not otherwise identified in the archive where I found it. It was written in 1904. Mosby was an assistant attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice at the time.

            “I read Jones deliverance to the grand Jury about the protection due to the negro – I agree with his sentiments but hardly think the Supreme Court will agree with him in [inserted: his] opinion on the constitutional question. But his charge to the Jury will have a good effect if it causes the U.S. grand juries to indict a lot of fellows for lynching negroes — for the U.S. Govt. is a holy terror to that class.”

          • OhioGuy January 7, 2016 / 10:44 pm

            Hillbillies are the last group that it’s still OK to malign without fear of the PC Police knocking at your door at midnight. I think we need to hire a better PR firm.😉

  14. Mary Ellen Maatman January 7, 2016 / 12:49 pm

    Ohioguy, thank you. What archive were you working with? I could really use that Mosby source for my current research project. Are there any other sources (primary or quality secondary) on Mosby that folks would recommend? Thanks in advance!

      • Mary Ellen Maatman January 8, 2016 / 9:16 am

        Thank you! I’ve seen Gilder Lederman’s holding of Mosby’s famous letter acknowledging that slavery was a root cause of the war, but not other Mosby materials.

  15. Sherree January 8, 2016 / 4:06 am

    Ohio Guy,

    I am still trying to process the Mosby quote. It was like my ancestor just leapt out of the history books and started speaking. I was beginning to think that I made him up. But no, there he is, in the person of Mosby, in that one quote, at least.

    Wow. The truth is stranger than fiction.

    On hillbillies–whatever. If it makes some people feel superior to malign other people that they obviously know nothing about, then rock on, on that, too, and look in the mirror at your Lost Cause, pro Confederate advocate twin, because you are the same.

    • OhioGuy January 8, 2016 / 12:25 pm

      You’re welcome, Sherree. I have an ancestor like that, or sort of like that. He was 63 years old when he joined the 78th Ohio VI with five of his sons. He lied about his age, said he was 44, so it took awhile to figure out who was who. His wife was raised a Quaker. There’s a story that he was an abolitionist, but I’ve not been able to find a shred of evidence either proving or disproving that assertion. That fact that he joined the Union Army at such an advanced age is suggestive, but actually proves nothing.

      • Sherree January 8, 2016 / 1:27 pm

        OG,

        Well, you never know. Maybe your ancestor was an abolitionist, maybe not. Who knows? History is fluid–as is life. The facts are static, yet interpretation is anything but. That is what is going on now, on a grand scale, it seems to me: we are trying to determine what our national narrative will be–the broad outlines of it. It is not necessary to tear the house down in that process. I think that most people agree about that. At least I hope they do.

        • OhioGuy January 8, 2016 / 2:14 pm

          Well, I still hope I might find a letter or diary, or something that will provide more evidence. A number of years ago I did find a descendant of a daughter of this ancestor (my g3grandfather), who had a number of old family photos. I’m currently trying to track down additional female lines as I think women are more likely to keep family heirlooms. Hope springs eternal.

          • Sherree January 8, 2016 / 3:51 pm

            Whatever you find, I am certain it will be fascinating. Your ancestor went to war, his five sons went, too, and he even lied about his age so that he could go. That shows commitment. His wife was brought up as a Quaker?…..There’s a lot of smoke there….most likely a fire somewhere. Please let us know what you find out!

          • OhioGuy January 9, 2016 / 6:14 am

            For the record: another son was in another regiment. So it was a total of the old man and six sons. The old man and one son died in service.

  16. Laqueesha March 8, 2016 / 8:51 pm

    It encouraged me to keep studying the ACW even more. I learned so much about the war over the past year. Really fascinating stuff.

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