What's Next for the Sesquicentennial

Post & Courier, February 2011

One hundred and fifty years ago in early 1861, the Southern states were seceding one by one, and Abraham Lincoln, elected president in November 1860, was to be inaugurated on March 4, 1861. Georgia seceded on Jan. 19, Mississippi troops seized a federal fort on Jan. 21, Georgia troops occupied the United States arsenal at Augusta on Jan. 25.

On Feb. 1, Texas voted to secede. On Feb. 9, Jefferson Davis was elected president of the Confederate States of America. The United States mail continued to be delivered in the South. Things were to change dramatically after Lincoln's inauguration as president in March 1861.

The war began in Charleston harbor at 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861. This moment was, perhaps, the most tragic in American history as it signaled the beginning of a fratricidal war of enormous proportions.

We, as a community, will commemorate, remember, observe, and recognize this moment in our history by reflecting upon and studying these events.

The College of Charleston's Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World Program will host a major international conference from March 3-5 entitled, "The Civil War -- Global Conflict" which focuses on the international aspects of the War. It features major historians from around the world (www.cofc.edu/atlanticworld). The Sons of Confederate Veterans are holding their state convention April 8-9.

The Fort Sumter/Fort Moultrie Trust (www.sccivilwar.org) is hosting a series of lectures entitled "Why They Fought: Reflections on the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War" commencing April 8. Speaking on "Before the Storm: South Carolina and Charleston on the Eve of War" are historians Walter Edgar, Bernard Powers and Barbara Bellows. Dr. Powers will address "Black Carolinians, Racial Anxiety and Secession in the Palmetto State." Barbara Bellows will talk on "Charleston in 1860: the Great Secession Winter."

Over the next several days until April 12, the Trust will feature Barbara Jeanne Fields of Columbia University; Gavin Wright of Stanford University; Catherine Clinton of Queens University, Balfour; Stephen Berry of the University of Georgia; Tony Horwitz (author of "Confederates in the Attic" and winner of the Pulitzer Prize); Lincoln scholar Vernon Burton; Edward Ayers (President of the University of Richmond); and the legendary historians Emory Thomas and James McPherson (another winner of the Pulitzer Prize). The Trust and the City will screen Ken Burns' "Episode One: The Cause (1861)" of his famed Civil War documentary on April 9 at the Olde North Charleston Picture House and Marion Square and on April 10 at Fort Moultrie Auditorium and the Marine Resources Research Auditorium at Fort Johnson on James Island. "Glory" will be shown at Marion Square on April 10.

On the evening of April 11, the Trust, the City of Charleston and many other groups and municipalities will remember the first shot of the Civil War at White Point Garden. The observance will include a concert of Civil War era music. It will feature the music from Ken Burns' "Civil War" by the original band, Jay Unger, Molly Mason and the Family Band, the Mount Zion A.M.E. Spiritual Ensemble, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra as well as a few brief remarks by state and local leaders.

Re-enactments of the first shot itself and the bombardment will commence on April 12. Both Confederate and Union re-enactors will be at Fort Moultrie, Fort Sumter, Patriot's Point, Fort Johnson on James Island and at the Fort Sumter Visitor Education Center near the Aquarium (www.sonsofconfederateveterans.com and www.nps.gov/fosu).

A sunrise candlelight concert will be held at the Battery at 6:30 a.m. on April 12 marking the first shot of the war.

The City Gallery at the Waterfront Park will feature restored Civil War photographs of Charleston in 1865 as well as art submitted to the poster competition for the official Sesquicentennial poster. (http://citygalleryatwaterfrontpark.com). The Gibbes Museum of Art will feature two fine exhibitions, Stephen Marc's "Passage on the Underground Railroad" and "A Soldier's View of Civil War Charleston" featuring thirty-three paintings by Conrad Wise Chapman (www.gibbesmuseum.org).

The Charleston Museum is showcasing these exhibitions: "Threads of War: Clothing and Textiles of the Civil War," "City Under Siege: Charleston in the Civil War," and "The Life and Times of Congressman Robert Smalls (April-June, 2012) as well as a lecture series (www.charlestonmuseum.org). The United Daughters of the Confederacy, of course, maintains a permanent collection at the Confederate Museum, 188 Meeting Street (www.csa-scla.org). As for theater, the South Carolina Historical Society and the Actors' Theatre of South Carolina present "Mary Chesnut's Road to War," April 9-10 (www.southcarolinahistoricalsoceity.org); SpiritLine Cruises will present a play by PURE Theatre to benefit the Fort Sumter/Fort Moultrie Trust in March; and Barter Theatre of Abingdon, Virginia presents "Civil War Voices" at Memminger Auditorium April 4-12 (www.bartertheatre.com).

The Sesquicentennial will be a far cry from the centennial celebration in 1961. Everyone's voice will be heard in a large variety of contexts and venues.

Robert N. Rosen is the author of "Confederate Charleston" and President of the Fort Sumter/Fort Moultrie Trust (www.sccivilwar.org).

Please confirm events, locations and times on the website, www.SCCivilWar.org.