“North Carolina Perspectives Guide the War Between the States Commemoration”
“The Sesquicentennial’s Midpoint” – a July 2013 Interview with Bernhard Thuersam, NC WBTS Sesquicentennial Commission Chairman.
The observance of North Carolina’s War Between the States Sesquicentennial is now in its third year, paralleling 1863 and chronicling its effect upon North Carolina and its people. Just past is the observance of North Carolina’s participation at the three-day battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, which saw many Tarheels journey northward to follow the footsteps of their ancestors, many of whom did not return from that battlefield.
The Commission Mr. Thuersam leads is a 12-member group of private individuals from across the State, from Cape Carteret and Wilmington to Tabor City and Southern Pines, to Granite Falls and Asheville – and includes Commander Thomas Smith, Jr., North Carolina Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans. Equally impressive is the Commission’s Academic Board with Dr. Clyde Wilson, native Tarheel and retired Professor of History at the University of South Carolina on board, and Dr. Boyd Cathey, retired Registrar at North Carolina Department of Archives & History.
What The Sesquicentennial Commission is Commemorating
“Our opening webpage header, “Unsurpassed Valor, Courage and Devotion to Liberty” makes it clear what we are commemorating, and the content affirms why we are observing this important time of North Carolina’s history,” states North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial
Commission Chairman Bernhard Thuersam of Wilmington. He adds: “we also entitle the website “A State Forced Out of the Union” to make it clear why North Carolinians helped form a more perfect union with other Southern States – Unionists were more numerous than secessionists in early 1861 but the uncompromising nature of Northern Republicans would force them to find a more perfect union elsewhere.”
A Work in Progress
The Commission chairman said the website continues to be “a work in progress” as three new webpages have been recently published: “North Carolina’s View of Secession” drawn primarily from Dr. J. Carlyle Sitterson’s seminal study “The Secession Movement in North Carolina and published in 1939; “Women and Children Face the Invader” which reveals the reality of war at home and how it was faced by noncombatants; and “The Tariff Origins of the War,” a concise and informative look at the economic factors that really caused the war.
Thuersam said the Sesquicentennial itself, and greatly-increased public interest has spawned “War Between the States Era” walking and driving tours of North Carolina towns and cities, one operating in Wilmington since 2011 and similar ventures started or planned in Raleigh, Charlotte, Burlington, Fayetteville, Kinston and Plymouth. He adds that “our www.ncwbts150.com website hits are nothing short of phenomenal and so many people want to know more about that period, and the North Carolinians who lived, fought and died then.”
Impact to Date of the Sesquicentennial Commission and its Website
Asked what impact he feels the Sesquicentennial Commission, its website and efforts have had since 2011, Thuersam responded: “I see in the print and online media more discussion of that period today and a far better appreciation and recognition of the North Carolinians of that time -- plus the individual heroism they displayed both at the front and at home. The human story of sacrifice, valor, courage and suffering of that time has finally come to the forefront.”
Thuersam added, “I am happy to see many moving away from referring to North Carolina’s soldiers of that time as simply “Confederates,” and more properly seeing them as husbands, fathers, sons and brothers, all who fought and gave their lives to defend Hatteras, New Bern, Kinston, Plymouth, Fort Fisher, Wilmington, Fayetteville, Bentonville, and many far away battlefields. To me this means the Commission has been fulfilling its mission of public awareness and education very well, and it is a satisfying feeling”
The website provided high visibility for the many memorial observances across the State this year and Thuersam remarked that “I had the very high privilege of speaking at the Robert E. Lee Birthday at the State Capitol, as well as the Columbus County Memorial Day service, both great honors. There is no better way to honor your ancestors, and to keep the flame of their patriotic passion burning in your heart today.”
What is Coming Up This Year and Next?
Thuersam provides an idea of what is going on with the Commission today and what is being planned: “Well, we receive much good feedback regarding our “Patriots of ‘61” page which briefly tells the story of the many men and women from around the State who served North Carolina during that war, and this will certainly be added to with our research. We will also continue to add pages we think give the reader a well-rounded view of the war, and why it happened.”
Any Controversial Topics on the Website?
“A surprising topic we handled well, I think, was that of treason against North Carolina. We were encouraged to explore this long-neglected subject by many on the Commission and people across the State. The webpage begins with a clear analysis of what constitutes treason, especially by the standards and laws of that period, and how it adversely affected North Carolina and its war efforts. I think our tackling this topic shows our commitment to history, warts and all, and not leaving ignored stones unturned.”
A Living History Program in the Works:
“We are in the planning stages of a very interesting living history program which has three talented impressionists in the characters and uniforms of Generals Robert F. Hoke and William H.C. Whiting, and Colonel William Lamb. Our tentative program has them all on stage discussing the period from late-1864 through the fall of Fort Fisher and retreat from Wilmington -- allowing the audience to feel as if they are witnessing those officers and their viewpoints firsthand. What a great way to present our history!”
He adds: “This will be followed up with a similar program featuring Generals Joseph E. Johnston, Hoke, and William Hardee at the time of Bentonville. Once again, the audience will not only learn history, but experience it as well.”
What Happens When the Sesquicentennial is Past?
“The search for history and its remembrance is an endless task, and the Commission feels that we are engaged in the important task of compiling important information for not only us today, but for future generations as well. We are already discussing the publication of the website content into a book available both in digital and book forms, this is most important for our young people to use for learning and research. The Commission’s task is educational, and we are doing this to the best of our abilities, and for the sake of future generations.”