As the city marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, Ernest Dollar isn’t just thinking about past events that helped shape so much of American life.
Dollar, the director of the City of Raleigh Museum, wonders about the future, and what the next generation will think about the war.
“Will the Civil War creep back into the shadows of American history, or will there be that crazy interest that’s always been there?” Dollar asked.
The museum will host a symposium Saturday to ponder that question and more. A walking tour is also planned for Monday, and the museum is hosting an exhibit throughout April that chronicles the last days of the war in Raleigh.
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In 1965, the 100th anniversary of the war’s end featured public ceremonies, “a publishing frenzy” of Civil War history books and the production of toy guns and soldiers for children, said Fitzhugh Brundage, a history professor at UNC-Chapel Hill.
The United States was in the midst of the civil rights movement, and the anniversary of the war that led to slaves’ freedom struck a chord with many people, said Brundage, who will be part of the symposium.
“Southern states saw it as a great way to promote tourism,” he said.
Fifty years later, Brundage said, there’s not nearly as much fanfare.
North Carolina is hosting some events to mark the anniversary, but the recent economic downturn caused the state not to appropriate any additional money for the sesquicentennial committee.
Even so, Brundage said the anniversary provides an opportunity to reflect on the war, and also on the valor of soldiers and the country’s founding principles.
“On one hand, anniversaries are kind of contrived events,” he said. “... On the other hand, we periodically need as a society to pause and reflect on how history unfolded and how we arrived at the moment we’re in.”
In April 1865, the Civil War was quickly drawing to a close. Union forces occupied Raleigh on April 13. The walking tour presented by the City of Raleigh Museum will follow the path of the Union cavalry that morning.
Raleigh narrowly escaped being burned, Dollar said. On April 17, when Union Gen. William T. Sherman learned that President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated, soldiers stormed Raleigh.
Union Gen. John Logan threatened the troops into retreating, Dollar said, which likely saved the city.
Shortly after, on April 26 at Bennett Place in Durham, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston surrendered his command.
Changing views of the past
Dollar said he wants historians at the symposium to “look into crystal balls” to predict how the history of the Civil War will be perceived years from now.
The past doesn’t change, but how society understands the past is ever-changing, Dollar said.
The media and pop culture shape perceptions, he said, and the future of race relations in America will likely play a role in how people view the Civil War.
“Each generation writes their own version of the past,” Dollar said.
Staff writer T. Keung Hui contributed to this report.
Local events to mark Civil War anniversary
▪ “War At Your Door,” an original historical musical on the occupation of Raleigh, 7:30 p.m. April 9-10, Garner Performing Arts Center, 742 W. Garner Road, Garner. Call 919-661-4602 for tickets.
▪ “The New Old War: New Perspectives on the Civil War” symposium, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 11, City of Raleigh Museum, 220 Fayetteville St. Go to http://bit.ly/1CajUOD for more information.
▪ 150th Surrender of Raleigh Walking Tour, 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. April 13, City of Raleigh Museum, 220 Fayetteville St. Go to http://bit.ly/1CajUOD for more information,
▪ 150th Anniversary of the Fight For Morrisville Station, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 18, Morrisville Town Hall, 100 Town Hall Drive, Morrisville. Go to http://bit.ly/1BzHMru for more information.
▪ 150th Anniversary of the Surrender at Bennett Place, April 17-26, 4409 Bennett Memorial Road, Durham. Numerous events are scheduled, including a bus tour of area sites and the anniversary April 26. Go to http://bit.ly/18DRqyS for more information.
▪ Civil War Encampment at the State Capitol, 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. May 9, 1 Edenton St., Raleigh. Guides will lead tours, and re-enactors will portray Union and Confederate troops encamped on the grounds. Call 919-733-4994 to make reservations.