What Civil War Sesquicentennial Celebration?
I’m definitely not in the South anymore. I wasn’t even aware of the Civil War Sesquicentennial celebration that began on April 12, 2011 by presidential decree. I don’t know if I have ever seen or heard of “sesquicentennial” and I’m positive that I have no idea of how to pronounce it. Evidently it means the 150th year. I think I would have gone with that. I tried to find Colorado Civil War Sesquicentennial events and, amazingly, the site said they had no listings. I found an article by Harold Holzer (one of the leading Abraham Lincoln historians) regarding this observance. http://www.historynet.com/civil-war-memory.htm In this article, originally published by America’s Civil War magazine on July 7, 2010, Holzer is frustrated by Congress’ unwillingness to establish a National sesquicentennial commission to support this “once-in-a-generation anniversary opportunity.” (Maybe our members of Congress don’t know what a “sesquicentennial” is either.) Holzer argues that this would be a great opportunity to “stimulate debate, encourage creativity and, most of all involve people of every background and heritage who were either affected by our history or can learn from it.”  President Obama did issue a presidential proclamation establishing the sesquicentennial events. I found his proclamation insightful as well. (http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/04/12/presidential-proclamation-civil-war-sesquicentennial) The president did present the Lost Cause view of the bravery and sacrifice of the soldiers of the Civil War and did not place any blame upon the South. But he also recognized the impact of the war upon African Americans, their contributions, and the end of slavery. As a politician, President Obama did not address the causes of the war. But he did include the struggle for equal rights. The president also called “upon all Americans to observe this Sesquicentennial with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that honor the legacy of freedom and unity that the Civil War bestowed upon our Nation.”  The question before us is. . . How do we observe such an anniversary without creating division and opening up old wounds?
As I searched the internet for Sesquicentennial events I did notice a wide variety of events that would appeal to a diverse population. Almost every battlefield is hosting a special day upon the anniversary of that battle. Key political acts such as the declaration and, later, the implementation of the Emancipation Proclamation are also being commemorated. There seems to be a great effort being made to overcome the Lost Cause mentality and view the Civil War in a more diverse way. However, this anniversary seems to one that many desire to ignore or minimize. Is the Civil War still so divisive that Congress is afraid to promote its memory? Does it still stir up such hard feelings that we can’t observe its historic significance? The Civil War (Sorry southerners, “The War Between the States”) may well be the most impacting event in American history. How can we simply ignore and dismiss it?
 Harold Holzer, “Civil War Memory,” Historynet.com. http://www.historynet.com/civil-war-memory.htm (accessed June 21, 2012).
 The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, “Presidential Proclamation–Civil War Sesquicentennial,” http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/04/12/presidential-proclamation-civil-war-sesquicentennial. (accessed June 21, 2012).