Civil War-Related National Parks Schedule Commemorative Events for Civil War 150th Anniversary

Hampton's Pennsylvania Battery, Gettysburg National Military Park. NPS photo.

During 2011-2015, the Civil War will be commemorated with special events in more than 70 Civil War-related national parks. This month's schedule includes highlighted events in four different parks.

A Great Opportunity

The National Park System's large complement of Civil War-related sites and related human and cultural resources ensure that the National Park Service and its partners will have a prominent role to play in the Civil War sesquicentennial commemoration that gets underway this year and continues through 2015. The National Park Service sees this as a great opportunity to help the current generation of Americans learn about this country's greatest national crisis and explore the Civil War's enduring relevance in the 21st century. Towards this end the agency has planned for improved interpretative programs and special commemorative activities at Civil War-related sites.

Here is how this initiative is spelled out in bureaucratese:

In preparation for the Sesquicentennial, the National Park Service -- through the collective efforts of the superintendents at Civil War-related parks -- has undertaken a multi-faceted, multi-year, integrated program that will simultaneously transform and improve interpretation of the Civil War.

The Park Service has also developed various tools for publicizing commemorative events at the parks, engaging the public, teaching youngsters about the Civil War, and cooperating with local, state, and regional tourism agencies.

National Park Service Civil War Website

The development of an official National Park Service Civil War Website was a natural outgrowth of the planning process for NPS participation in the Civil War Sesquicentennial commemoration. Ambitiously dubbed a "national forum" by the Park Service, and still a work in progress, this website is already functioning as a master site for nicely-indexed schedules of commemorative event and exhibits, hotlinks to the more than 70 Civil War-related NPS sites, a searchable index of Civil War soldiers' and sailors' names (the Soldiers and Sailors System), and a wealth of information on diverse topics such as battlefield protection and African Americans in the Civil War. This website's Site Index is outstanding.

CW150 Strategizing

In light of the fact that commemorative events and activities in the parks have important implications for the tourism industry, the National Park Service and key partners met last August at a two-day planning workshop held at the National Conservation Training Center (NCTC) for the purpose of organizing a cooperative marketing project under the theme: “Civil War to Civil Rights: Experience Your America, 2009-2015.”

The Civil War Sesquicentennial (CW150) partnership is a broadly-based coalition of public agencies and private organizations. Core members attending the workshop included the NPS Office of Tourism, state tourism directors from 12 states, and the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) tourism council and commission members.

The group identified three key areas for action -- education, capacity building through marketing and communication efforts, and using new technology. In addition to acknowledging the basic need to coordinate the promotion of commemorative events in Civil War-related national parks, the group also emphasized the importance of:

• Utilizing podcasts, vodcasts, engaging websites, and other emerging technologies and web-based resources to reach younger Americans and their families;

• "Taking the story beyond the battlefield" and connecting people to the experiences of civilians and the struggle of African-Americans toward freedom and equality; and

• Scheduling events and programs to commemorate events that both proceeded and followed the war (such as last year’s observance of John Brown’s Raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry).

The CW150 project has been identified as a demonstration project highlighting strategic principles in the NPS national tourism strategic plan. These principles include building capacity through partnerships, launch of a national branding platform, highlighting lesser known parks, and promoting economic growth through visitor spending on travel.

Civil War Commemorative Event Schedules

With the Civil War sesquicentennial commemoration already underway and garnering lots of publicity, more and more park visitors, journalists, tourism promoters, and others are seeking dependable information about scheduled events and activities in the Civil War-related national parks. The Park Service's Civil War Website is meant to serve that need on a system-wide basis. Currently, the site has schedules of commemorative events and exhibits for the four months January-April 2011. These monthly schedules are being updated on a continual basis, and will be expanded to later months, so interested parties should check back for current information as needed.

The websites of the individual Civil War-related parks are another source of information about commemorative events and special exhibits or activities (such as ranger-led tours). Unfortunately, the event schedule pages of many park websites are poorly maintained or contain no information at all. You can always contact the park directly when you run into that situation.

The current month's slate of commemorative events in the Civil War-related parks has four headline events in four different states:

Mississippi Secession and First Guns in the West

This Saturday, January 8, 2011, Vicksburg National Military Park is co-sponsoring (with the Old Courthouse Museum) an observance of the Mississippi Secession and firing on the A. O. Tyler. On January 9, 1861, Mississippi became the second state to secede from the Union. Four days later, an artillery battery fired on the Tyler, a federal riverboat. The commemorative event will feature several historic reenactments, including a reading of the Mississippi Ordnance of Secession, a lowering of the U.S. flag, and cannon firing.

First Shot at Pensacola and Gulf Islands National Seashore 40th Anniversary

Also on Saturday, January 8, Gulf Islands National Seashore will host living history presentations and special candlelight tours (reservations required) at Fort Barrancas. These activities commemorate a crisis that occurred on January 8, 1861, when Florida state troops demanded the surrender of Fort Barrancas and the commanding officer issued orders for guns to be made combat-ready at all three Pensacola forts (Barrancas, Pickens and McRee). “The First Shot in Pensacola" was triggered at Fort Barrancas that night when Federal troops fired warning shots to discourage a suspected attack by state troops. Since Gulf Islands National Seashore was established on January 8, 1971, this commemorative event coincides with the celebration of the park's 40th anniversary.

"The War Begins" -- Mid-Winter Lecture Series at Gettysburg

Beginning January 8 and continuing each weekend through Sunday, March 13, rangers will present a free lecture series at Gettysburg National Military Park exploring events and personalities of the Civil War and the Gettysburg Campaign and Battle. This weekend, the Saturday lecture focuses on Jefferson Davis and the Sunday lecture is about Abraham Lincoln. A complete schedule can be found at this site. The lectures will be held in the film theater of the Gettysburg NMP Museum and Visitor Center until February 27 and then switch to the Ford Education Center.

March to Glory – Lyon’s March from Fort Scott to St. Louis

During January 28-29, Fort Scott National Historic Site will commemorate the actions of US. Army Captain Nathaniel Lyon, whose infantry company was ordered to leave Fort Scott on January 29, 1861, the same day that Kansas became the 34th state in the Union. Reenactors portraying soldiers and civilians from this turbulent time will present demonstrations, debates, speeches, arguments over politics, and other activities to educate and entertain visitors.

Traveler will be posting additional announcements of relevant events and activities in our national parks as the Civil War 50th Anniversary commemoration unfolds over the next four years.

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NPS.gov/CivilWar is no longer online. It has been replaced by NPS.gov/cw150.