This year the U.S. Postal Service will issue stamps commemorating the 150th anniversary of two important Civil War events, the beginning of the war and the first great land battle. National parks preserve the sites of both of these events.
The Confederacy was launched soon after South Carolina seceded from the Union in December 1860, and the Civil War got underway four month later. At 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, Confederate batteries opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, forcing its surrender the next day. No longer a war of words centered on the slavery issue, the Civil War was now a shooting war. Both sides raised armies of eager volunteers who believed that the war would soon be over, and with few casualties to count.
These beliefs were put to a severe test on July 21, 1861, when the first major land battle was fought at Manassas, Virginia. The First Battle of Bull Run -- called the First Battle of Manassas or just "First Manassas" in the South -- yielded a Confederate victory, thousands of casualties, and the sobering realization that both the North and the South might have to raise huge armies, shift their economies to a war footing, and fight a long and costly war.
That's exactly what happened. Union and Confederate forces ended up pounding away at each other in more than 10,000 skirmishes and battles fought in two major theaters during a war that dragged on for four long years, destroyed vast amounts of property, and cost more than 600,000 human lives.
The Civil War was certainly a watershed event in American history. More than just preserving the Union and ending slavery, it also reshaped the national economy, transformed the culture of the South, accelerated technological progress, and profoundly impacted millions of lives for both good and ill.
Over the next four years, the U.S. Postal Service will issue a series of stamps commemorating the Civil War's 150th anniversary. A souvenir sheet of two stamps will be issued each year, with the final issue in 2015.
The first issue is scheduled for release on April 12, 2011, the 150th anniversary of the war's beginning. It will be a sheet of two stamps, one depicting the firing on Fort Sumter and the other depicting the Battle of Bull Run. Additional information about the Civil War stamps and other commemorative stamps to be issued this year can be found at this US Postal Service website.
Phil Jordan, the Postal Service's veteran art director (since 1991), has chosen scenes for the initial Civil War commemorative stamp issue that are well known to Civil War history buffs and art collectors. The Fort Sumter stamp is a reproduction of a Currier & Ives lithograph entitled “Bombardment of Fort Sumter, Charleston Harbor” (ca. 1861). The First Bull Run stamp is a reproduction of “The Capture of Rickett’s Battery," a 1964 painting by Sidney E. King that shows fierce fighting on the Henry Hill site where a key Union battery had been placed.
The stamp pane features comments on the war by President Abraham Lincoln, black abolitionist/human rights leader Frederick Douglass, and Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. (It was at the First Battle of Bull Run that the latter earned his famous nickname.) Also included on the stamp pane are some of the lyrics to “Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier,” a folk song of sacrifice and lament that was popular during the Civil War. The stamp pane’s background image is a ca. 1861 photograph of a Union regiment near Falls Church, Virginia.
Both sites depicted on this initial stamp issue are preserved within the National Park System. Fort Sumter National Monument in Charleston, South Carolina, was established in 1948 and now attracts over three-quarters of a million visitors a year. From the park's Fort Moultrie unit on Sullivans Island, the battered remains of the brick masonry fort (which was repeatedly bombarded by Union gunships during the war) can be viewed from the vantage point of Confederate gunners who opened fired on Fort Sumter during that fateful April day in 1861.
Virginia's Manassas National Battlefield Park, which is located about 20 miles southwest of Washington, DC, preserves and interprets the sites of two major battles, including First Bull Run (First Manassas). At the park's Henry Hill Visitor Center you can see Sidney King's original oil-on-plywood painting of “The Capture of Rickett’s Battery" and then go walk the very ground depicted in the painting (as well as the staunchly-defended Confederate position on Henry Hill where General Thomas J. Jackson earned his nickname "Stonewall").
Postscript: As the name implies, the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas) was not the only major battle fought for control of Manassas, a key railroad junction. The Second Battle of Bull Run (Second Manassas), an even larger battle with considerably more casualties, took place August 28–30, 1862, and resulted in another Confederate victory.