By Laura S. Holder, Federal Liaison for the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area
Few events in history can stir up controversy like the American Civil War. This devastating, bloody time in our nation’s past left scars that can still be found–on our landscape and in our memories. But at the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, we’ve found that the Civil War Sesquicentennial (a fancy way of saying the 150th anniversary) provides a valuable platform to encourage learning about the entire drama of the war and Reconstruction and to celebrate the diversity of our history. Our partnerships with the Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, and organizations across the state have developed and shared inclusive, accurate, and fascinating commemorations of the Civil War with our residents and visitors.
The initial wounds of war took years to heal. By the turn of the century, veterans groups were holding reunions in both the North and South in an effort to bridge the bitter divide that had ripped our nation apart. Yet, at the same time, the era of Jim Crow and the cult of the Lost Cause were taking hold. The 100th anniversary of the Civil War in 1961 coincided with the passionate fight for civil rights. Few would remember the Centennial as a time of inclusion or, let’s face it, an honest evaluation of the war. But fifty years later, much has changed.
As a member of the Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission (a 24-member group appointed by the governor that includes scholars, United States Colored Troops re-enactors, state legislators, and tourism professionals), along with Heritage Area director and Commission co-chair Van West, I have witnessed the ways that Civil War history can draw communities together rather than drive them apart. Our Heritage Area’s mission has always been to tell the “whole story” of the Civil War. During the multi-year commemoration of the 150th, the Tennessee Sesquicentennial Commission has built upon that theme, bringing about “an understanding of the past to improve relations in the present and leave a lasting legacy for the future,” as set forth in the commission’s mission statement. Partnering together, pooling our resources, and sharing a comprehensive story based on primary sources has engaged communities and individuals in active participation. Together we are educating, preserving, and sharing our collective history.
There are tremendous opportunities to take advantage of the Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial’s events, educational materials, and heritage tourism experiences. The 2014 Signature Event, free and open to the public, is scheduled for November 13-14, 2014, in Franklin, TN.
For a fun (and educational!) road trip, follow the Tennessee Civil War Trails across the state, or download the free Tennessee Civil War iPhone app. From GIS battlefield databases to a book series, Emmy-award winning documentaries to digital artifact conservation, the Sesquicentennial Commission strives to find ways to engage everyone. The story is still relevant 150 years later. This tragic war wreaked havoc on our still-young nation. Yet, as we study and experience the war’s long-term effects, a powerful theme emerges out of the story of devastation. With the death knell of slavery, the country eventually found a way to come together again–better, stronger, and finally free. That outcome is the war’s greatest legacy, and what we ultimately want to commemorate.
Our next post will share an in-depth look at one of Tennessee’s Sesquicentennial initiatives, the Civil War Trails program.