Thingish Things

On the Civil War, Silence

Written By: William F. B. O'Reilly - Mar• 29•11

In two weeks the country will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. It began on April 12, 1861 when confederate Brigadier General P.G.T. Beauregard — they don’t make names like that anymore — ordered southern artillery officers to open fire on federally-occupied Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, S.C. The war ended almost exactly four years later, on April 9, 1865, with more than 625,000 Americans having been killed — about two percent of the U.S. population at the time.

One hears almost nothing about the Civil War sesquicentennial, at least not in New York, even though New York suffered more battlefield deaths in the war  — 46,000-plus  — than any other state, Northern or Southern. New York City’s famed Fighting 69th Regiment had a 75% casualty rate.

Budget cuts have been cited as the reason, but that’s a bunch of bunk. When you cut to the chase, the reason we’re not making a big deal in marking the occasion is that we no longer care enough about the Civil War. We do not make remembering it a priority. That, as one of my teenage daughters would say, is not cool.

The Civil War happened a blink-of-an-eye ago in relative terms.  Its veterans were marching in parades into the 1940’s.  The last veteran, Albert Woolson, a Minnesota drummer boy, died in 1956, seven years before I was born.  Almost every town in America has a Civil War memorial – and for good reason.  It was a pretty big deal, what with the end of slavery and all…

The best summation of the Civil War I’ve heard was spoken by the great southern historian Shelby Foote, although he was not its originator: “Before the Civil War, one would say the United States are…  After the Civil War, one would say the United States is…”

Well the United States is forgetting its history.  And that’s a crime.



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One Comment

  1. Me says:

    Well put!

    (I think it’s because people are afraid of trying to pronounce sesquicentennial–they’re biding their time till 2061…)

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