Events commemorate Civil War

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 24, 2011

By Paul V. Brown Jr.
Carolina Travel News Service
Travel North Carolina over the next four years and you’re destined for a rendezvous with America’s costliest war in human terms.
North Carolina’s commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War will be an understated affair. There is little to celebrate about the bloody war, whose causes and aftermath still elicit strong emotions.
But led by the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, state archivists, historians and park officials have developed a slate of events and exhibits over the next four years to give modern-day North Carolinians an insight into an era whose people performed laudable feats of bravery and suffered gut-wrenching loss and deprivation. The theme of the commemoration is “Freedom, Sacrifice, Memory.”
Like many states, North Carolina heavily promotes its Civil War tourism. Only a few major battles shook the state, but several significant events for the Confederacy took place here. And North Carolina stands out in the war effort. It was one of the last states to secede from the union. Yet it sent more Confederate troops — as many as 135,000 — to battle than any other Southern state. About 35,000 North Carolinians died, a figure that accounts for about an eighth of all Confederate war deaths. About 1,000 of the total died while serving in four Union army regiments raised in the state or in four U.S. Colored Troop regiments.
The scope and number of sesquicentennial events are sprawling. Through May 13, for instance, a free exhibit called “From Slaves to Freedmen: U.S. Colored Troops & the Freedmen’s Colony on Roanoke Island” will be on display in the Grand Hall of Roanoke Island Festival Park in Manteo (call 252-475-1500 for information). On the opposite end of the state, “Call to Arms!” on June 11 and 12, is a living history program featuring a 26th N.C. Regiment encampment that will explore western North Carolina citizens’ attempts to raise a volunteer company of infantry. It will be held at the Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace in Weaverville in western North Carolina. Vance was the state’s popular Civil War governor. Information about the event is available by calling 828-645-6706.
Thirteen of the state’s 27 historic sites will launch a new, comprehensive education initiative this year to draw attention to North Carolina’s experience in the war. Seven sites have organized specific programs on the war, including Bennett Place, a Durham homestead where the largest surrender of the war took place; the State Capitol in Raleigh; and the CSS Neuse State Historic Site in Kinston, where the remains of one of the Confederate Navy’s few ironclad vessels is on display.
Other cultural sites with no direct connection to the war will host events, too, including Tryon Palace in New Bern; and Somerset Place in Creswell, one of the upper South’s largest plantations. On June 11, Historic Halifax will unveil wayside exhibits that present the local history of the maritime Underground Railroad. Halifax’s history is steeped in the Revolutionary War period. But the Underground Railroad, which had a stop on the Roanoke River in Halifax, was used by enslaved people in the years before the Civil War to escape to freedom in the North.
The state has created a sesquicentennial website that includes a comprehensive list of events and commemorations throughout the four years. The web address is
Many events have a kids’ component. From June through August, Fort Fisher in Kure Beach will offer daily tours led by costumed interpreters. All 37 state museums and historic sites will hold 2nd Saturdays programs this summer, when a variety of artists, musicians and re-enactors will entertain visitors. The dates are June 11, July 9 and Aug. 13.
From Aug. 22 to 28, a number of firsts will be marked during Flags Over Hatteras. The event will feature the first North Carolina Blue-Gray Descendants Reunion of the 21st century at the Hatteras Village Civic Center on Aug. 22-24. On Aug. 25 through 27, a conference at the civic center led by historians of national note will focus on events in the state that led to the first Union victory of the war, the first use of U.S. Naval blockading strategy and the first known instance of African-Americans firing on a Confederate fort. Registration is $175 and is limited. On Aug. 27 and 28, a free, living history program at Cape Hatteras Lighthouse will include Civil War era re-enactors in encampments who will hold drills, give artillery demonstrations, perform period music and present a “Ladies Fashion Show.” To register or for information, visit www.flagsoverhatteras. com.
A major component during the next two years is a Civil War Sesquicentennial Photo Exhibit, a traveling show that will make one-month stops in 50 public libraries and four history museums across North Carolina. Images included in the exhibit, organized by the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, range from well-known Confederate generals and women who served as Confederate spies to African-Americans, the home front and battlefields.
Miss the exhibit in your hometown and you’re likely to find it in a vacation town. Two editions will follow eastern and western routes across the state. The east route began April 1 at the Cumberland County Public Library in Fayetteville; the west route started in the Ashe County library in West Jefferson. Stops this year include the Smithfield/Johnston Public Library and the Rowan County library in Salisbury, both in June; the Forsyth County Public Library in August; the New Hanover County Public Library in Wilmington in October; and the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras in December.
The state is hosting three major conferences during the sesquicentennial commemoration. The first was held in Raleigh on Friday, the 150th anniversary of the state’s vote to secede from the Union. The second, in Winston-Salem in May 2013, is meant to coincide with the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which granted freedom to enslaved people in the majority of the South. The final conference, in Wilmington in May 2015, revolves around the fall of Fort Fisher in coastal North Carolina, Gen. William Sherman’s march across the South and the close of the war.