Amanda Foreman: The American civil war battles go on

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Amanda Foreman is a historian and author of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and A World on Fire: an Epic History of Two Nations Divided. She is also the recipient of the 1998 Whitbread Award for biography.]

In 1961 an official US commission oversaw thousands of events to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the American civil war. All 50 states joined in, but not surprisingly the biggest events took place in the 11 southern states that made up the defeated Confederacy. Citizens in Alabama celebrated with a full-scale re-enactment of the swearing in of the Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, in front of 50,000 spectators, followed by an inauguration ball attended by 5,000 guests. In South Carolina, where the first shots of the four-year war were fired, Confederate flags were flown from every building. There was a Miss Confederate beauty pageant, parades, and even a re-enactment of South Carolina's declaration of secession.

By contrast the 150th anniversary of the civil war, which starts on 12 April, has been marked by boycotts, protests, and an embarrassed silence from the politicians in Washington DC.

All nations struggle in the aftermath of civil war. More than 100 years after the English civil war, for instance, any prelate who was "enthusiastic" about religion attracted censure and suspicion. The American war of 1861-65 is recent enough to be embedded still in cultural memory. But that isn't why it weighs so heavily on the American conscience...

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