The Sesquicentennial

Sesquicentennial is a real English word. It is a 150th anniversary. The American Civil War began 150 years ago this week at Ft. Sumter, South Carolina. I’m pretty proud of my timely visit to the fort a week or so ago.

The sesquicentennial is a big deal to someone who enjoys Civil War history, voluntarily read and re-read Gods and Generals and The Killer Angels, and who was raised in a family which, in many respects, revolves around the Virginia of 1861-1865. It is also a big deal to my hometown, Manassas, which will celebrate the sesquicentennial of its first involvement in the war this July with no shortage of fanfare.

I began my celebration with a screening of [the first half of] Gone with the Wind last night. Given that I enjoy reading, especially classics, and I enjoy the time period in which the story is set, it’s somewhat surprising that I’ve never seen the movie or read the book before. Rebecca has been trying to sit me down to watch it for a while now, which is some feat since I usually have a pretty short attention span for movies. And this one is four hours long. Having paused on the Intermission screen, I can say that so far I find Rhett Butler dreamy and Scarlett O’Hara is my favorite kind of leading lady — non-conformist, energetic and self aware. I also enjoy her dresses.

To continue celebrating, I am of course re-inspired to visit nearby battlefields and soak up some history. Yes though I probably threw fits as a child when Mom and Dad declared an afternoon battlefield adventure, I rarely pass up a chance to visit one these days. During the spring break of my senior year of college, Dad and I took a little day trip to visit the Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and The Wilderness battlefields. Yes, spring break.

At Fredericksburg, we toured Chatham Manor which served as the Union headquarters on one side of the river.

Then we saw the Confederate perspective from Sunken Road and Marye’s Heights on the other side of the river.

We saw the trenches of Stonewall Jackson’s line, still visible in the ground surrounding the battlefield.

And it doesn’t look like much here, but we saw the spot where Stonewall Jackson was shot by friendly fire during the Battle of Chancellorsville.

On our way home from a wedding in Virginia Beach recently, Hugh and I stopped to see where Jackson eventually died. In this bed:

During a brief stint teaching with a youth leadership conference, I visited Harper’s Ferry, WV, once a week for two months where we taught youngsters about radical abolitionist John Brown’s raid on the armory there in 1859. It’s where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers meet, as do the borders of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. Fun fact: West Virginia was not its own state until the Civil War. Fun fact #2: It’s beautiful during the Fall.

On the way home from a family wedding in New York one summer, the parents, Dylan and I made a pit stop at Gettysburg. If you can look past the hoards of tourists, it is such a haunting place. I took this, I believe, from Little Round Top looking out toward Devil’s Den and the Peach Orchard.

Most recently, on our nine-hour drive home from Charleston, Jessie let me stop at the Petersburg battlefield.

More than anything I wanted to stop to see The Crater, the result of one of the most interesting tactical blunders of the war. But alas, it took us too long to get into the park so we could only stop to see one thing. This:

And this, where the Confederate Army was poised to deflect the Union’s first attempt to seize Petersburg and thus be able to seize the capital of the Confederate States of America in Richmond.

As the sesquicentennial marches on, I’ll be making time to revisit Manassas, a battlefield I’ve grown up underestimating. And I hope to either get to Richmond (and make a second attempt at The Crater) or Antietam in the near future.

Oh, and I also hope to watch the rest of Gone with the Wind.

“Good heavens, woman. This is war, not a garden party!” – Dr. Meade


Posted on April 14, 2011, in Adventures, Celebrations, Family, Friends, Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Lauren – I have on order the Director’s cuts of both Gods and Generals and Gettysburgh – on DVD! Coming in May… Get used to watching LONG movies!

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