Personal Observations on the Sesquicentennial of the Firing on Fort Sumter

I laid awake last night thinking about the American Civil War and our “celebrations” of the anniversaries. The sesquicentennial of the Civil War is one of those anniversaries that really needs to be remembered, and it’s interesting in how we “remember” the most terrible period in American history.

Okay – I’m going to show my age in the writing of this blog. I’ll be 61 years old tomorrow. So I can remember living through the celebration of the Centennial observances of the War, starting in April of 1961. I can vividly remember sitting in front of our neighbor’s small black and white television (my parents didn’t own a TV until about 1965) watching television specials about the Civil War. No – I don’t remember the details. I can just remember that I was impressed and a bit overwhelmed by what I saw on television.

As a youngster, and even as I got older I was under the impression that the Civil War was about “states rights” with slavery as a related issue. Although a great-grandfather on my dad’s side was a military recruiter from the state of Michigan, and fought throughout the War with the 7th Michigan Cavalry, my mom’s father’s side of the family was from Virginia, and we had many relatives from that area that were involved in the local militia, as well as the Confederate Army. So you might say that our family took had a “balanced” view of the War.

It’s a known fact that after the War, America tried its best to move on. People wanted to forget the terrible division that started before the Civil War itself (think “bleeding Kansas”), and continued through the reconstruction of the South. It was easy to simply say that the firing on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, and the next four years of viscous battle were all about the right of the States to make their own decisions – one of them being whether to be slave or free. I’ve made the statement many times over the years that slavery would have gone away without the Civil War because it was not an economically viable pursuit. But I was just repeating what I had been told. In truth, in the 1850s, per capita wealth grew over twice as fast in the South as in the industrialized Northern states. The agricultural South saw their real estate as well as slaves go up in value as much as 70%. Without the War, slavery of black Americans might have been around for a long time. It’s about the money…

I’ll admit, my opinions at the age of 61 have been formed by what I’ve been told, as well as what I’ve read, and studied over the years. I now believe that the War was about slavery, pure and simple… Again, it was about the money (aren’t most things). It’s too bad that the founding fathers didn’t deal with all this at the end of the American Revolution, but then again, the divisiveness of the slavery issue might have destroyed the fledgling Union before it had a chance to get off the ground. Compromises were made that left slavery in place for the following three quarters of a century. It’s nothing to be proud of, but it’s our history.

It’s my belief that a lot of other folks see the War in a similar vein to the way I look at it. Because of this, I think we will see the Sesquicentennial observances of the War to be somewhat different than the way our parents and grandparents observed the Centennial. Keep in mind that in 1961 Jim Crow was still in evidence, and segregated public schools were the norm in many areas. It had only been 6 years since Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus, and separate drinking fountains, and washroom facilities could still be found. America has changed. We’re still not perfect, nor will we ever be, human nature being as it is. Over the next 4 years, there will be battle reenactments, more literature on the Civil War will be written, and further analysis will be disseminated from far and wide. And in our observances of battles past, let us remember. Let us remember our courageous ancestors, from both the North and the South, and let us also remember that all men (and women) really “are created equal,” and that’s what it was all about…

2 thoughts on “Personal Observations on the Sesquicentennial of the Firing on Fort Sumter

  1. I’m just a few years younger and I remember some centennial events too. And I totally agree with you. And in 1967, I had a history teacher in Virginia that MADE us call the Civil War, “The War Between the States”. Recently having moved from Ohio, I thought she was crazy.

  2. I am happy to know you are not all Yankee. Your article reminds me of the one-time famous story about the rebel soldier who was captured by a Yankee regiment (it took that many). One of his interrogators asked the young soldier, “You don’t own any slaves and you aren’t in favor of slavery, so why are you fighting us? The soldier thought a minute and replied, “I’m here because you’re here.”

    In other words, he was resisting the imposition of Yankee will on the South. It did not make him like or defend slavery, either. So, I am saying that the War was not only about slavery. It was about people who knew best for everyone else. Rep. Clement Vallandigham warned President Lincoln that the War was not a game, that it would kill hundreds of thousands and would drag on for years. He wanted to end slavery any other way than war. He was immensely popular so he could not easily be assassinated or he would have been.

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