On April 12, 2011, I was sitting in my high school Civil War & Reconstruction course, just listening to my teacher talk to us about the significance of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Early in the ‘Civil War Sesquicentennial,’ was nationwide fervor for battlefield anniversary programming, documentaries, museum exhibits, state commissions, and major reenactments. By 2015, the Sesquicentennial was nowhere near as popular across the country as the Centennial was in the 1960s. As we look back on the Sesquicentennial’s legacy, ten years later, a lot has changed in the realm of Civil War interpretation, public history, memory, monumentation, and preservation.
I could go into the reasons why public memory of the Civil War has altered in the wake of several controversial events, but I am sure each of you who have paid attention to these events are already quite aware of what happened. Issues of race, Confederate memory, and political ideology were heightened in the wake and put the spotlight on our nation’s most consequential and controversial conflict – the Civil War.
Instead of analyzing how Civil War interpretation and scholarship has changed, I want to give a call to action. As Civil War historians and enthusiasts, we have to stay involved and interested in preservation, visiting museums and historic sites, attending battlefield tours, and financially supporting various institutions and organizations that help preserve history. While some sites have reported growth during and after the Sesquicentennial, many others have seen a noticeable decline in support and/or attendance. Some of this, no doubt, is caused by apathy, or lack of enthusiasm, in the subject in the wake of these major political events.
As we prepare for the 160th Anniversary of the Civil War, I call each of us to continue to support history and preservation, no matter your views on monuments and memory. Keep encouraging youth to be interested in Civil War history. Take a family member or friend to a battlefield. Find a preservation cause to financially support. Call your Senator or Representative and tell them why they need to help preserve Civil War history. Stay active in your community for preservation efforts. Keep reading about the Civil War. Visit Civil War museums and historic sites you have never been to. These are all simple ways to keep the fire alive for the study and the preservation of the Civil War. Let us see those numbers in attendance and financial support increase, not decline, during the 160th.