, Newburyport, MA

March 19, 2009

Civil War's 150th anniversary neglected in N.E.

To the editor:

We are approaching a historic anniversary that, much to my chagrin, New England has not seemed to move one step for its commemoration. I'm talking about the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War (2011-2015).

For a few years now, many Southern states have set up organizations, approved by their state governments, to help set up events and ceremonies of remembrances of this critical time in our country's history that wasn't really that long ago. The last veteran of the war died in the 1950s.

The stage is already set for the anniversary of John Brown's Raid at Harper's Ferry, W.Va., this October, an event seen by most historians as the spark that ignited passions on both sides of the upcoming conflict. Three states — Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia — have events planned for this one commemoration alone! Brown himself foresaw a bloody conflict coming as he was sent to the gallows.

The National Park Service has set up a Web site to "present information on events leading up to the Civil War, so that the Sesquicentennial can be experienced as the 150th anniversary of major military events, but also of social, political, economic and cultural transformations that have changed the nation forever."

On its Web site, among the long list of Civil War sites under the umbrella of the NPS, there are four places in Massachusetts! This doesn't include the various state or local historic-related locations or the town and city monuments that dot almost every New England town and city. Newburyport has the treasure known as Atkinson Common.

Historic figures of the time lived or came through Newburyport, and many local unsung heroes signed up to defend the Union. Many are buried in Oak Hill, the Highland and other cemeteries right here.

In town, we have houses marked where Jefferson Davis (Confederate president) stayed when he was a member of the Pierce cabinet and friend of Caleb Cushing, another where Frederick Douglas visited and a house marked as the birthplace of William Lloyd Garrison.

I urge any student of American history of any age to get involved somehow to begin moving ideas on how we can commemorate this important anniversary. Perhaps some teachers can think of inspiring students or perhaps individuals can get together and work on a plan. Those who are interested are encouraged to contact the Civil War Roundtable of the Merrimack at or PO Box 421, West Newbury, MA 01985.

Bill Hallett

Board Member and Webmaster

Civil War Roundtable of the Merrimack