Who Won the Sesquicentennial?


A Reenactment version of General Stand Watie, the last Confederate to surrender.
A reenactment version of General Stand Watie, the last Confederate to surrender.

Just as the last reenactment ink was dry on the last reenactment surrender, all heck seemed to break loose across the nation: police were accused of killing black men–young and old, the Confederate Southern Cross ignited fear and loathing, and black churches were fired upon simply for existing. Is it time for a Sesquicentennial of Reconstruction?

Eric Foner
Eric Foner

I finished my last class before the thesis classes at APU this spring, and it shook me all to hell and then some. I read books by Eric Foner (Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery, A Short History of Reconstruction, Voices of Freedom: A Documentary History, Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction, Nothing But Freedom: Emancipation and its Legacy–and these are only the books I can see from where I am sitting tonight!) until I saw them in my dreams. I read Paul Ortiz’s powerful Emancipation Betrayed, and cried so hard at the stories of mistreatment and mistrust that I thought my heart would break. I even read Albion W. Tourgée’s A Fool’s Errand: A Novel of the South During Reconstruction, first published in 1879.civil-war-2_3260660b

I used to be pretty good at making the case for the moral rightness of Union victory . . . but just now I get so overcome with images of racial violence that I do not think I could make much of any kind of argument without crying. Crying is not a particularly effective scholarly technique for putting forth one’s ideas.

This will pass, I know. As our Symposium (August 7-9) comes closer, and as thesis crunch time does as well, my life will be taken over by Dr. Jonathan Letterman. Some perspective will once again be regained. I chose to write about Letterman and Surgeon General William Hammond because I wanted to focus on a positive legacy left by the American Civil War. Reconstruction is not very positive, and it is clear that the war did not end in 1865. It continues today, in some very ugly ways.

KKK at a Karnival in Karson City
KKK at a Karnival in Karson City

So what think you, Faithful Readers? Does the 150th belong to the t-shirt vendors? Who do you think won the war, or did anyone? Please consider responding below!

2 Responses to Who Won the Sesquicentennial?

  1. My memory from the Centennial (as an 8-12 year old boy growing up in a small Texas town) is the sense that “we once were apart, and now we are brothers again”. Certainly has not been the feeling of the past 4-5 years. Just sayin’.

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