CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Booming cannons, plaintive period music and hushed crowds ushered in the 150th anniversary of America’s bloodiest war on Tuesday, a commemoration that continues to underscore a racial divide that had plagued the nation since before the Civil War.

The events marked the 150th anniversary of the Confederate bombardment of Union-held Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, an engagement that plunged the nation into four years of war at a cost of more than 600,000 lives.

Several hundred people gathered on Charleston’s Battery in the pre-dawn darkness, much as Charleston residents gathered 150 years ago to view the bombardment of April 12, 1861.

About 4 a.m., a single beam of light reached skyward from the stone works of Fort Sumter. About a half hour later, about the time the first shots were fired, a second beam glowed, signifying a nation torn in two.

Nearby, a brass ensemble played a concert entitled “When Jesus Wept” as hundreds listened, some in folding chairs, others standing.

Fifty years ago during the centennial of the Civil War, there was a celebratory mood. But on Tuesday, the 150th anniversary events were muted. Even the applause seemed subdued.

Of about 1,200 people attending two main commemorative events, only a handful were black. One man whose Confederate ancestor is credited with firing the first shot of the war acknowledged his family legacy as a “mixed blessing.”

“I think it signifies the mood of the nation. I think we’re much more sensitive to other people and the diversity in this country,” said Linda Marshall, a 58-year-old registered nurse from Charleston as she waited for the second beam of light as dawn creeped up.

A little over two hours later, as a red sun rose on James Island across the harbor, Confederate re-enactors fired an authentic 1847 seacoast mortar, signaling about 30 other cannons ringing the harbor.

Those cannons quickly thumped and smoke rose in a re-enactment of the Sumter bombardment.

In a dispatch to The Associated Press in 1861, an unnamed correspondent observed the fort’s parapets crumbling under the pounding of artillery. He wrote of gun emplacements being “shot away” and shells falling “thick and fast.”

“The ball has opened. War is inaugurated … Fort Sumter has returned the fire and brisk cannonading has been kept up,” the dispatch said.

Sumter fell after a 34-hour bombardment.

One of those on hand on James Island was John Hugh Farley of Roswell, Ga. Many historians credit Farley’s ancestor, Lt. Henry Farley, as firing the first shot at Sumter.

“It’s a real big honor. We are very proud of our family,” said Farley, who had two other ancestors fight for the South. “It certainly is a mixed blessing because it’s bringing back a memory from way back but it also helps us to look at history and learn from history.”

Later in the morning, Danny Lucas, 53 and black, was walking out after visiting Charleston’s Old Slave Mart Museum, where the history of Charleston’s role as an urban slave trading center is recounted.

“I have no problem with the Civil War being honored as long as it is inclusive,” said Lucas, a Ridgeland, S.C. resident. “I don’t think whites should be so defensive and I don’t think blacks should feel they are unwelcome to these kinds of things. I think it will fade over time.”

Lucas does think last December’s secession ball in Charleston, during which South Carolina’s leaving the Union was commemorated, may have soured some blacks on the 150th events.

“The secession ball discouraged them because in their minds, they saw the ball as a celebration,” he said. With other events they may decide “I’m not going to go because there will be a whole lot of rebel yelling and carrying on.”

“In this moment of remembrance, let us all do the tough truth telling necessary for our nation to finally heal from the sins of slavery and fratricide,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, the president and chief executive officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in a statement released by the civil rights group.

“Commemorative events must neither ignore slavery as the principal cause of the Civil War, nor romanticize those who fought to keep African Americans in slavery,” he said. “This is a time for the nation to reflect and repent, not ignore – let alone celebrate – the atrocities that tore our country apart.”

State Sen. Glenn McConnell, president pro tempore of the South Carolina Senate and a Civil War re-enactor, told the audience of about 700 on James Island that the effects of the war are still being felt.

“The War Between the States triggered generations of disputes and controversies between regions, races and cultures,” he said.

“Why was the war fought? Was it about slavery or states’ rights? What does the Confederate battle flag stand for? Is it a symbol of bigotry or a memorial to the valor of fallen soldiers,” he asked about 700 people gathered at a ceremony commemorating the first shots of the war. “Many of the emotional issues still rage.”

He said the South has moved on and “the time has come to move beyond the petty disputes of the past.”

Later a black Union re-enactor representing a soldier from the 54th Massachusetts, the company of black troops that fought at Battery Wagner on Charleston Harbor in 1863 in an attack memorialized in the movie “Glory,” threw a wreath into the water and saluted.

Then seven re-enactors in Confederate gray fired a 21-gun salute in memory of all who died on South Carolina soil. Two buglers then echoed “Taps.”

As the event broke up, a small group of Confederate re-enactors in the back of the crowd took up singing “Dixie,” although only a handful joined them and not very enthusiastically.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Comments (14)
  1. AT says:

    I’m not black, but what kind of ridiculous title is that? Are we really that prejudiced that we need to post something with “few blacks on hand” in the title? Get a grip people…pathetic.

  2. sheriff willie says:

    I wouldn’t be anywhere near that site if I were Black. I mean like man, nowhere does it say stupid stamped on my forehead.

      1. sheriff willie says:

        Whoa, if it isn’t AT. What happened dic head did you lose a T at the end of your name & now you’re all out of sorts? Take a flyin f…..k turd.

    1. Kritikal says:

      Sometimes a label isn’t necessary.

  3. Kritikal says:

    It would be a worthwhile effort to use the 150th anniversary of the Civil War to educate people about the nature of the union known as the United States in 1861 in contrast to today. Even the term “state” was not used in the same context as we undertand it today when applied to one of the 50 states.

    As an amateur student of the Civil War, I can understand the NAACP’s caution about “romanticizing”the antebellum South” but not slavery. The overwhelming majority of the men, young and old, who grew up in the antebellum South and fought for the Confederacy owned no slaves and were not fighting to defend slavery. By the same token, there has been considerable romaticizing of of the North’s “great crusade” to end slavery, when Lincoln himself made it quite clear that his cause was the preservation of the Union and if he could achieve that without freeing a single slave he would do so. In fact, his Emancipation Proclamation freed no slaves under the control of the United States. It applied only to those in the Cofederate States. Slaves in the North – a very small number in comparison with the South – were not freed until well after the Civil War ended.

    The Cliff’s Notes version of the Civil War obscures the complexities, but the fact remains that, while the South may have been motivated initially by the desire to continue to grow an economy based on slavery, the North fought to preserve the Union. Only after Lincoln shrewdly made freeing the slaves an issue calculated to persuade England and France to stay on the sidelines, did abolishing slavery become a significant motivating factor for Union troops.

    At that point the advance of Union troops deep into the South created an army of Confederate soldiers who were fighting to defend their homes and families. Slaves were freed as Union troops advanced, but that was not the strategic objective.

  4. Dave says:

    The writer’s obvious frustration is with the fact that, for all the theatrics around racial issues these days, most “african americans” or “black” organizations don’t seem to be visibly involved in recognizing the event that FREED SLAVES. The peeps around my ‘hood honked car horns all night long when Obama was elected. I wonder why the 150th anniversary of this tragic event isn’t met with the same fervor, albeit solemn and dignified. However, you are right, there does not seem to be much of a point for that in the title. Prejudice though, your grip is too tight.

  5. Ex-Baltimore says:

    My fellow Blacks are more concerned with watching BET gangsta’ rappers, NBA games and going to clubs nightly than their own history.

    Anyway, I always wondered without the Civil War how long slavery would have lasted in America?

    1. Kritikal says:

      That’s a realy good question and I’ve seen all kinds of speculation. Much of it looks at the economic conditions in the second half of the 19th century and concludes that slavery would not have been viable after the 1870s.

      I wonder how powerful the federal government would be today without the Civil War – more or less than it is? Several of the Constitutional amendments ratified after the Civil War strengthened the Federal government and, although originally enacted to clarify the rights of former slaves, have been used to tighten the Federal government’s control over many issues that were reserved to the states before the war.

  6. sheriff willie says:

    Salavery is alive & well only it’s called by another name these days. 1% of the wealth held by white wall street crooks affect the other 99% of the rest of America. Now run along little doggies, pay your taxes, make us richer & believe you’re living the American dream. More like a nightmare.

  7. Kritikal says:

    Are you trying to stir the pot because this thread had pretty much steered clear of the racist rhetoric you’ve chosen to use?

    Where did you get the money to afford a computer and internet connectivity?

    1. sheriff willie says:

      Kritkal, In spite of your insolent questions, there are a good deal of other Americans out there who do not share your views. Now go jack off in front of said computer with the kiddie porn because I have seen your kind before & believe me, Root canal without a sedative would be most welcome to listening to your drivel.

      1. Kritikal says:

        Well, I have to admit that there’s no way to respond to an intelligent, well thought out, and well written come back like that. Your mother must be proud of you!

  8. Ex-Baltimore says:

    Boys! Boys! Boys! Please! Now be nice!

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