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by Laura Lee, Fort Delaware Interpreter
The Civil War - 150th Anniversary
Read Laura's bio.
At Fort Delaware, we are honored to be a part of events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. It is not a celebration; certainly there is no celebration in a war that took the lives of at least 620,000 Americans. But it is fitting that we remember their sacrifices, no matter which side of the Mason Dixon line they stood on in this epic war that took place on our own soil. As Lincoln said best in his Gettysburg address, it is important “…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, for the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
We remember this solemn occasion in 2012 with our first-ever traveling exhibit. Fort Delaware State Park is proud to host “Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War” from June 20 to August 3, 2012. The exhibit, sponsored by the National Constitution Center and the American Library Association, has been made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanties.
Fort Delaware had no memorable battles other than the one for life. It does not occupy a huge place in the annals of Civil War history. As my mentor Lee Jennings said, “For those prisoners, the war was over.” While it was not a pleasant place by any standards, historical records and the death rate testify to the fact that it was one of the more survivable prison camps, North or South. In our interpretive programming, we remember both Union and Confederate soldiers who served – it is literally our job to do so. But in telling the story of history, and telling it well, we are challenged with many obstacles.
Winston Churchill once said, “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.” That tongue-in-cheek comment illustrates what we face as historians. Each side has its own agenda. We work hard to examine both Union and Confederate historical sources when we create park programs. Letters, journals, diaries and memoirs written 30 years after the war all have varying degrees of accuracy or slant. Military records, while often more reliable, have their own problems. As a more contemporary screenwriter said, “Half of writing history is hiding the truth.” And it is this “truth” that we wade through in the attempt to present a balanced account of what life was really like at Fort Delaware.
But our job is not to decide who was right or wrong when it comes to what actually happened at Fort Delaware. A good interpretive program is contemplative, collaborative and inspires in the visitor the desire to learn more. Our goals in commemorating the 150th anniversary are to provide visitors with thought-provoking stories of the people who lived on Pea Patch Island. We share the perspective from a prisoner’s point of view to a Union officer, and right down to the laundress who labored at the fort. Using history, we try to make meaningful connections to today. It is our goal to work toward creating a new generation that enjoys discovering Delaware history, using stories, games, presentations and hands-on activities. Lastly, it is important during this 150th commemoration that we educate about the true cause of the Civil War – not the fight for individual states rights, but the institution of slavery.
I encourage you to make this the year you experience Fort Delaware. Our P.O.W. Weekends, held the second weekend of June, July and August, will feature themes and concepts that support our goals. During these weekends, volunteer Civil War reenactors and living historians join with park interpreters to make the Fort come alive as if it is the 1860s again. The themes will change each year of the anniversary (2011 through 2015). Instead of one big 150th event, we are planning a series of events for you that will offer a wide variety of experiences.
P.O.W. Weekends planned for 2012 include a focus on the role of the Navy, women, and African-Americans. In coming years, we’ll explore topics like Jewish-Americans in military service, music of the war, the role of the Irish and more. We are also excited about our annual Victorian Kids Fest in July, co-sponsored by the Fort Delaware Society.
After the battle of Fredericksburg, General Lee said to Longstreet, “It is well that war is terrible, lest we should grow too fond of it.” Well said, General Lee.