National Archives celebrates Civil War anniversary

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

By Curt Yeomans


It has been almost 150 years since Confederate soldiers bombarded Union forces at Fort Sumter, in Charleston, S.C., April 12-14, 1861, leading the United States to go to war with itself.

After the firing on the fort, the Civil War began. The war went on for another four years, and eventually made its way to the Clayton-and Henry-County area, with the Battles of Jonesborough (the old spelling for Jonesboro) and Lovejoy Station in 1864.

Prior to Fort Sumter, "There were some small skirmishes in the late 1850's, in Kansas, near the border with Missouri," said Rob Richards, the director of archival operations at the Morrow-based National Archives at Atlanta. "But nothing on the scale of a large battle took place until the firing on Fort Sumter."

The National Archives will commemorate that event, and the beginning of the war, on April 16, with "Civil War: America's Long Struggle." The event includes a symposium, and an "Antiques Roadshow"-style program, in which appraisers will examine Civil War artifacts and determine their value. It will all take place at the archives, located at 5780 Jonesboro Road, in Morrow.

People, who want to participate in the anniversary event, have until March 31 to sign up for it. The cost is $20 per person, and the registration form can be obtained at the National Archives at Atlanta, and on its web site -- www.archives.gov/southeast/.

Richards and Jim McSweeney, the regional administrator for the National Archives at Atlanta, said the number of people signing up, so far, has been much lower than anticipated. Richards said close to 30 people have signed up for the event, with 17 people expected to participate in the "Antiques Roadshow"-style appraisal , which is scheduled to be aired on Georgia Public Television.

"It's been going very slowly, so far," McSweeney said. "We were hoping we'd have 200 to 300 people attend this event."

The schedule for the symposium includes presentations by an archivist from the National Archives at Atlanta, as well as Trevor Plant, the head of reference at the National Archives' main office in Washington D.C.

Other scheduled speakers include Daniel Stowell, the director of papers at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, in Illinois; Andersonville National Historic Site Chief of Interpretation and Education Eric Leonard, and Auburn University professor and author, Kenneth Noe.

Richards said anyone who wants to bring in a Civil War artifact for appraisal will be required to attend the symposium as well. He said they will have to turn in their items before the symposium begins, so the appraisers can look them over during the symposium.

McSweeney added that the date for the event was chosen to tie into the Fort Sumter anniversary. "The anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter is on April 12," he said. "So, we wanted to tie the kick-off of our 'Civil War: America's Long Struggle' event into the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, as closely as possible."

Richards, who is pulling together items from the archives' collection for the program, said the archives does not have anything in its collection in Morrow that is directly from the attack on Fort Sumter. But, he added there are items in the collection that show the 1860 appointment of a lighthouse keeper to the fort, which sits in the middle of Charleston Harbor.

Richards said the archives' collection also includes a letter that an official at Fort Taylor, in Key West, Fla., sent to the Army Corps of Engineers in Washington D.C., just after the attack on Fort Sumter. The letter shows the official citing the attack as a reason to strengthen fortifications at Fort Taylor, in anticipation of an attack by Confederate forces.

"A week, to 10 days after Fort Sumter, an official at Fort Taylor wrote a letter to the chief of the Corps of Engineers, saying, 'This is what we need to do here to make sure we can withstand a Confederate attack,' " Richards said. "It refers to the attack on Fort Sumter, saying 'It happened there. It's going to happen here. War is upon us.'"

Richards added that the National Archives at Atlanta has several other documents from the Civil War, including: Muster rolls for union forces that were captured at the Battle of Harpers Ferry, in West Virginia; enlistment records for African-American soldiers in the Union army; Confederate agency records, and allegiance oaths that former confederate soldiers had to sign after the war ended.

Richards said he believes the Civil War will be on the minds of people often in the next few years, as 150th anniversaries come up for battles and events from the war, including the anniversary of the Battle of Atlanta, in 2014.

"This is going to be on people's minds for the next four years," he said. "There are a lot of people in Georgia whose families have kept artifacts and heirlooms from the war, and we're hoping that they'll bring them in [at the anniversary event]."

For more information about "Civil War: America's Long Struggle," call (770) 968-2100.