The Civil War, 150 years later
150 years later, and Americans still cannot agree on the meaning of the Civil War. The conflict began in April 1861, and by the time it was over four years later more than 600,000 soldiers - both North and South - were dead. No war has claimed more American lives. Martha Teichner is in South Carolina, where it all began...
The real battle of Anderson - skirmish, actually - took place three weeks after the Confederacy had officially lost the Civil War.
But that doesn't prevent its enthusiastic re-enactment every April in a South Carolina field.
This year, to the delight of the audience, the South won.
One hundred and fifty years after the start of what many white Southerners hate being called "the lost cause," the subject of the Civil War is still loaded - but not nearly as explosive as it once was.
Re-enactor Terry Franks, known as "Squirrel," may be a die-hard Confederate ("I am a full-blooded, Southern-born and raised Confederate soldier; my aim to this is to carry on the history of what has happened in the past"), but most of the re-enactors switch off - portraying Confederates one day, Union soldiers the next.
"We're living history," said Kenneth Bachand, who has been taking part in Civil War re-enactments off and on for more than 50 years.
"We're just trying to show people what it was like on the battlefield in those days," he said.
But when it's the Civil War, 8th grade history teacher Jo Evans thinks assumptions are often made.
"It seems like Civil War, War Between the States re-enactors get this stigma that other re-enactors don't," Evans said. "I've never heard anybody who is a Revolutionary War re-enactor accused of wanting to re-start the War. But it's just this stigma that we have, and it's got to be the slavery issue."
But some perspective here:
Americans remain divided over whether slavery was even the main cause of the Civil War. According to a new poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, roughly four out of 10 say slavery ... nearly five out of 10 say states' rights.
Bernard Powers, a professor of African American history at the College of Charleston, is an advisor to Drayton Hall, near Charleston, S.C.
Slaves are buried here, their graves unmarked.
"I come out here and walk over in this area and there's a certain spirituality that pervades this place," he said. "One of the things that I worked with them on is developing the appropriate interpretation of this cemetery."
Powers told Teichner, "You know, I believe what William Faulkner said is very true, particularly about the South, and that is, 'The past is not dead; it's not even over.'"
But he admits: "2011 is quite different than 1961."
1961 - the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War.
"Segregation was the order of the day in the South, by law, and racial exclusion existed by practice in many place in the North also," Powers said.
"1961 was the year of the Freedom Rides. Dr. King had not yet given his famous speech, the 'I have a dream' speech.in 1963. We hadn't had the march on Washington, and so the period in the early to mid-1960s, in which the centennial was being celebrated, was a time period in which this nation was in the throes of a civil rights and racial revolution."
Powers remembers arriving in Charleston as a graduate student in 1975.
"I can recall taking the boat ride out to Fort Sumter, and the park ranger gave us the narrative of the events that led up to the war," he said. "There was no mention of the institution of slavery whatsoever."
On April 12, 1861 - four months after South Carolina had seceded from the Union - Confederate troops fired on Ft. Sumter in Charleston harbor.
Charlestonians watched from rooftops as if it were a show, not the beginning of the horrific, four-year war that killed more than 600,000 soldiers and left the South destitute and in ruins.
Compared to the 100th anniversary, 150 years after that day, in Charleston you could hear a lot more of the Civil War story told from multiple points of view.
"I do think that visitors who are coming to hear that sort of 'Gone with the Wind,' hoopskirts and mint julep story, they're few and far between," said Nicole Green, director of the Old Slave Mart Museum. "The visitors are really changing. They want the real story. They're hungry for more information.
"It's difficult, but it's something that should be understood," said Green. "Because it's all our history - it's just not my history."
But you discover, in Charleston, how many people see the Civil War as their own history - triumphant and tragic.
June Wells, director of the Confederate Museum and a past national president of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, showed Teichner the first Confederate flag that flew at Fort Sumter - "this flag with the holes in it.
"I'm proud of the people that put it up there," Wells said. "I'm glad that it survived, so we can show people like you the real things."
Wells showed the room where men enlisted for the War Between the States. "After the war, and after reconstruction, this room meant a lot to them. They brought their own things, and started the museum."
What they stood for may not be politically correct in 2011, but what they left here is priceless, historically.
Among the items: A lithograph of the Ordinance of Secession. "There were 171 men who signed it and they only made one for each man," said Wells. "One of my ancestors signed it - Merrick Ezra Carn," who was Lt. Governor of South Carolina.
If you look to the right, you'll see another name: Williams Middleton. Charlie Duell, a descendant of Middleton's, showed Teichner his picture.
"What was his thinking - .was it slavery? Was it the economy? Was it money?" Teichner asked.
"The combination of so many factors," Duell replied. "Slavery was certainly a dominant, if not the dominant factor.
"Also, I think there was a feeling among people like Williams Middleton that they were kind of doing what their grandparents had done in revolting against the British crown."
Williams Middleton's great-grandfather Henry was president of the First Continental Congress; his grandfather Arthur was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. They were founding fathers of the Union.
Williams Middleton risked his family's fortune to break apart.
"So that is the other bookend to these great events of American history - the American Revolution and the Civil War," said Duell.
Union soldiers burned the grand Middleton plantation house at the end of the Civil War; only one wing was left standing.
Today Charles Duell is president of the foundation formed to preserve and maintain Middleton Place and its spectacular gardens, a national historic landmark.
"In my childhood I would ask about the Civil War, and the subject was avoided," he said. "My grandparents, and I think many people of their generation, were a little too close to it to want to really put it out on the table. It was too painful for them, and they directed conversation back to the American Revolution."
Duell did want to put it out on the table. Attitudes have evolved.
Middleton Place was one of the first Charleston area plantations to showcase the slave side of its history.
Eliza's House is a typical vernacular, two-family slave house.
"The research had come up with 2,800 names of slaves that had belonged to the Middleton family, so this is a study exhibit," Duell said.
"Clearly slavery was horrific, but it was what it was, and I think for us, as human beings today, to have a sense of history and a sense of place, we need to know the facts."
In Franklin, Tennessee, where one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War took place, 10,000 soldiers (most of them Confederate) were killed, wounded. or just disappeared in five hours of fighting.
"By the next day, you couldn't take a step without stepping on someone," said Robert Hicks, touring the scene of the worst fighting.
Hallowed ground still occupied by a Domino's Pizza. It was recently purchased and is about to be torn down, to the delight of writer Robert Hicks, who helped found Franklin's Charge - dedicated to preserving the Franklin battlefield.
"At the end, it has got to go," Hicks said. "This was where many of the Confederate dead were buried after the battle, right here, that were later moved out to the McGavock Confederate Cemetery."
Nearly 1,500 Confederate soldiers were dug up and moved to Carnton, the McGavock family plantation nearby. Carrie McGavock tended their graves for almost 50 years. She is the subject of hicks' 2005 best-seller, "The Widow of the South."
He points with pride to the biggest prize yet for Franklin's Charge:
"We were able to raise over $5 million to buy this; it'll be completely reclaimed.//no golf tees, no tennis courts..you'll see the battlefield.where many of these boys died.
The golf course, the cemetery, the house ... all of this was part of the battlefield.
"Something important happened here, this place, and in all the battlefields," said Hcks. "And with the blood of those 620,000 men and boys, we really became America."
Hicks has this answer for anybody who asks, after 150 years, why not just let the Civil War be forgotten?
"It's something to be honored and to be commemorated and to be remembered, because that's how we got to here," he said, "and I think that is such a key, key piece of the puzzle of what it is to be an American."
For more info:
- Old Slave Mart Museum, Charleston, S.C.
- Middleton Place, Charleston, S.C.
- Franklin's Charge
- Heritage Foundation of Franklin & Williamson County
- Carnton Plantation
- Confederate Museum
- United Daughters of the Confederacy
- Fort Sumter National Monument
- The Battle of Anderson
- Civil War Re-enactments
- Avery Research Center at the College of Charleston
- Drayton Hall Plantation
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