Why is there no official federal US Civil War Sesquicentennial commission?

At least I don’t think there is. I caught a few minutes of a CSPAN 3 show this weekend where a group was trying to get one going?

I’ve got an idea why but there’s no sense tainting this thread from the start.

To make this clearly a GQ, my question would be…what is the status of federal efforts to get one going and is it unusual that an event of this import would not have an official federal commission?

The Centennial celebration was huge. But the Civil War was also in the living memory of a few people and told directly by parents to many, many more. Today it is distant history.

Worse, it’s now a sesquicentennial, which are never as big a deal. The 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition was one of the major World’s Fairs in history. The 1926 Sesquicentennial Exposition was a money-losing dud.

As a veteran of our city’s sesquicentennial, someone who worked for the city and helped plan and implement it, I can state pretty confidently that as soon as you throw the world “sesqui” in, the public runs rather than walks in the other direction.

I don’t think any bigger conspiracy theory is needed. An event “of this import” is no import at all most of the time.

This is just a guess, but I would think that celebrating something as divisive as the Civil War would not be something that a large portion of the country would want to be involved with, let alone fund. It would kind of be like the US going over to Japan and celebrating the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima or going to Germany and celebrating our victory in WWII.

It’s a states rights issue.

The C-Span piece mentioned that legislation was about to be introduced in the house calling for the creation of one.
The state of West Virginia has one, and so do Virginia, Mississippi, Arkansas, and practically ever other state.

As to the latter part of your question, I agree with Exapno. 150th anniversary isn’t that big a deal in the minds of most.

I had done a quick search and it looked like legislation was introduced a couple years ago. Maybe its going to be re-introduced.

Well the Post Office is releasing Civil War commemorative stamps this year and the next 4 as well.

What you saw on C-Span was a legeslative briefing on just that.

Just that which… introduced or re-introduced? If the latter, why didn’t it originally go anywhere?

I agree that 150 is nothing compared to the 100 … but the CW is one of the most popular and contentious subjects there is.

The bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth in 2009 wasn’t nearly as big a deal as I thought it would be, and it had an official Federal commission. I’m not terribly surprised that there’s no national CW sesqui commission. FWIW, Ohio has one: http://www.ohiocivilwar150.org/

Your friends at the National Park Service come to the rescue (at least until we get shut down by budget cuts)


Thanks for the link and thanks for your service with the NPS…where are you posted?

The NPS site is a good example of the issue I hinted at above… three of the six events mentioned are about slavery or civil rights… and the others are likely to have a component of the same. Not that there is anything wrong with that…just an explanation of why there is no agreement on having a commission.

I bounce around a bit at all two of the Parks in RI, but mostly I am up in the Blackstone Valley Heritage Corridor that runs from Providence to Worcester.

You are right about the attempt to broaden the story as much as possible. In fact if you are truly interested, the link about Civil War to Civil Rights is the NPS Midwest region’s plan on how to do this. This sums up where they are coming from on the broadening of themes - though there will still be plenty of powder shot off at battlefields over the next 4 years.

"Disregarding the contemporary Civil Rights Movement that was seen by many as a direct legacy of the war, the commemoration events frequently centered around battle reenactments. In response to the threat posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the
commemoration trumpeted the democracy that not only survived such a conflict but grew into a world power. Failure to discuss the context of the war or the modern clashes over civil rights resulted in lost opportunities for citizens to discover the war’s relevance and meaning to their own lives.

Heeding the lessons learned from mistakes made during the centennial celebration, this plan has been developed through the efforts of a diverse group of individuals and organizations. Those encouraged to participate in the commemoration (not a celebration) of the sesquicentennial are varied and numerous, just as the interpretation of the Civil War has expanded to include its causes, battles, consequences, and legacy."

I recommend “celebrating” by following this New York Times blog. Fascinating stuff daily:


I vote for the conspiracy. Maybe mix in a little ignorance and lack of knowledge of history. They fired on Fort Sumpter starting 12 April 1861. Let’s get going.

There doesn’t seem to be much in the works for the bicentenary of the war of 1812 either.

That’s interesting. I put in 1812 + reenactment and got 28,900 hits.

Here are a few things going on for the War of 1812 - not surprisingly a lot is focused around Fort McHenry. They just opened a new vistor center too.


The U.S.S. Constitution has some things planned too, of course. It is docked at the Charlestown Navy Yard, which is run by NPS, but Old Iron Sides is still a commissioned U.S. Navy vessel, so it is strictly a Navy operation.

Was introduced in 2007 by Richard Baker (R-La) in 2007 and never made it out of committee.

A similar bill was introduced in the Senate earlier this week.

Also came across this info from Civil War News, a list of all the state commissions that have been established to date.