Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 26 October 2014

War ceremony highlights race divide

Reenactors fire mortars from the Pitt Street Bridge towards Fort Sumter (AP)

Booming cannons, plaintive period music and hushed crowds have ushered in the 150th anniversary of America's bloodiest war - and underscored the racial divide that had plagued the nation.

The events marked the 150th anniversary of the Confederate bombardment of Union-held Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbour, South Carolina, an engagement that plunged America into four years of civil war at a cost of more than 600,000 lives.

Several hundred people gathered on Charleston's Battery in the pre-dawn darkness, much as Charleston residents gathered 150 years ago to view the bombardment of April 12 1861.

At about 4am, a single beam of light reached skyward from the stone works of Fort Sumter. About half an hour later, about the time the first shots were fired, a second beam glowed, signifying a nation torn in two.

Nearby, a brass ensemble played a concert entitled When Jesus Wept, as hundreds listened, some in folding chairs, others standing.

Fifty years ago during the centennial of the Civil War, there was a celebratory mood. But on Tuesday the 150th anniversary events were muted.

At the White House, President Barack Obama captured the sombre mood in a proclamation that the date would be the first day of the Civil War Sesquicentennial. "On this milestone in American history, we remember the great cost of the unity and liberty we now enjoy, causes for which so many have laid down their lives," he said.

Alluding to the war's ultimate end in 1865, Mr Obama added: "When the guns fell silent and the fate of our nation was secured, blue and grey would unite under one flag and the institution of slavery would be forever abolished from our land. We are the US of America - we have been tested, we have repaired our Union, and we have emerged stronger."

Later a black Union re-enactor representing a soldier from the 54th Massachusetts, the company of black troops that fought at Battery Wagner on Charleston Harbour in 1863 in an attack memorialised in the film Glory, threw a wreath into the water and saluted.

Then seven re-enactors in Confederate grey fired a 21-gun salute in memory of all who died on South Carolina soil. Two buglers then echoed "Taps".

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