The National Park Service and the Civil War Sesquicentennial Commemoration

The National Park Service (NPS) administers over 70 national battlefields, memorials, military parks, and historic sites related to the Civil War. Some are sites where major battles occued, such as Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, or Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland. Some are less obvious such as Gulf Islands National Seashore on the coasts of Mississippi and Florida. Gulf Islands National Seashore includes several Civil War era forts, including Fort Massachusetts on Ship Island off the coast of Mississippi and Fort Pickens at Pensacola Bay in Florida. Over the next few years, events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War will be held at all of these sites.

The NPS has a web page dedicated to its Civil War Sesquicentennial activities. Several items of interest can be found here. There is the Civil War Reporter, which are small reports written by a fictional Civil War newspaper reporter of the events of 150 years ago. Unlike those war correspondents, this one also has his reports on Twitter. Clicking on “Soldier Search” brings you to the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System. This site is a database of basic information about the over six million soldiers on both sides who served in the war.  The information on the soldiers is compiled from records in the National Archives. Currently, the database only has data for African American sailors, but eventually it will hold data for both Union and Confederate sailors. Additionally, regimental information and listings of burials in national cemeteries are being compiled.

For those planning a trip to a Civil War related park, the NPS offers a searchable calendar where one can search by location and date to see what commemorative events, tours, lectures, and so on are scheduled. But if the time frame of your visit does not coincide with a special commemorative event, don’t let that stop you from visiting. There are always plenty of regularly scheduled talks by Rangers and helpful volunteers who are happy to answer questions and share their knowledge of history. There are some good battlefield guide books out there that can be very useful in explaining just what went on in a particular location. It can be a very moving experience walking the same ground at Antietam, Gettysburg, or Shiloh where thousands of men fought and died 150 years ago.

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