FORT SUMTER NATIONAL MONUMENT, S.C. (AP) — Somber period music, flickering candlelight and thudding cannons around Charleston Harbor ushered in the nation's observance of the nation's bloodiest conflict this morning.
The opening salvo of the Civil War that began in Charleston Harbor were recreated Tuesday, the 150th anniversary. The war began before dawn on April 12, 1861, with the start of a Confederate bombardment of Union-held Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. The conflict ended four years later with the surrender of Confederate forces in Virginia on April 9, 1865.
"We're very clear we don't see this as a celebration but rather as a somber time," Tim Stone, the superintendent of the Fort Sumter National Monument said Monday. "We know that over the course of the four years of the Civil War 600,000 lives were lost. It's a very tragic event."
Tuesday's commemoration of the first shots was set to begin with a brief, pre-dawn concert of period music on Charleston's Battery entitled "When Jesus Wept." Then a star shell will explode over the fort, signaling the start for several hundred re-enactors — manning cannon around the harbor — to re-enact the bombardment. Union troops in the fort surrendered after more than 30 punishing hours of Confederate fire.
Re-enactors portraying Confederate units are camping at Fort Moultrie on Sullivans Island, while Union re-enactors are in Sumter this week. They plan to recreate the Union surrender to Confederate troops on Thursday.
Historian Rick Hatcher said the bombardment didn't cause any deaths, but two Union soldiers died of wounds suffered when a salute was fired during the surrender ceremony.
Stone said the National Park Service sees the anniversary as an opportunity for new generations to learn the story of the bloody conflict.
"We hope that in the National Park Service that manages many of the great Civil War sites — Gettysburg, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Antietam and, of course Fort Sumter — we provide the visiting public the opportunity to experience the history of those events. We try to focus on the history and let the visitors take away the message they want."
The events this week include living history demonstrations focusing on the role of blacks and women during the war. There will be sessions on period music, medicine and cooking of the era.
What is being planned is different than the festival atmosphere that seemed to surround the Civil War centennial 50 years ago, said park service ranger Michael Allen.
"When we began this journey we made clear it was not a celebration; it was a remembrance, a commemoration," he said, adding the Park Service rejected suggestions such as organizing a fireworks display over the harbor.
"The Park Service realized this is a sensitive journey," Allen noted. "The eyes of the ... state, the eyes of the nation and the eyes of the world are on what we are doing here."
More than 200 miles away in his native Greenville, civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke Monday to high school students about the lingering effects of the Civil War and slavery. He said that despite slaves being freed as a result of the war, it was another century before blacks attained equal rights.
But Jackson sees progress even in his home state, where public schools were not integrated until the early 1970s — nearly two decades after the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.
"It's good to see children, black and white, brown and Asian learning together," Jackson said following his visit Monday to Greenville's Southside High School. "That's part of the face of the new South."
One of the events being held this week in Charleston in conjunction with the anniversary is a talk on the war and slavery Tuesday by leaders at the state and local level of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Stone, meanwhile, said he was pleased and relieved that Congress reached an agreement to keep the federal government running so two years of planning weren't derailed.
Reenactors said they were thrilled a federal shutdown had been averted on the eve of the milestone anniversary.
"There was jubilation. That's the best way to describe it," said Mark Silas Tackitt of Seattle, who this week is re-enacting the role of Maj. Robert Anderson, the Union commander of Sumter at the time of the bombardment.
"I came 3,000 miles and worked on this for two years. People who have come here have come many, many hours," he said
He said when other re-enactors asked him what they should do when events seemed to be in doubt he said he told them "if you stay home, you're going to miss a once in a lifetime opportunity."