Civil War Web site gears up

State promoting events for war’s 150th anniversary

By Matt Lakin
Posted February 8, 2010

With just one year to go until the Civil War’s 150th anniversary, history lovers across Tennessee have taken their battle for the past to a new front – cyberspace.

The Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission and the state Department of Tourist Development launched a new Web site this month to help promote events planned statewide for the war’s anniversary, which will stretch from 2011-2015.

The Web site – – remains a work in progress but has already drawn praise from East Tennessee historians and preservationists.

"I thought the site was very comprehensive," said Cherel Henderson, executive director of the East Tennessee Historical Society. "It has something for everybody, whether casual tourists or hard-core history buffs. I think it’s significant that the state worked together with historical organizations to do this."

The Web site consists of five main sections, each with photos and video. The section on history offers a basic primer on the Civil War in Tennessee and its impact on Tennesseans. A time line walks visitors through the major battles, political campaigns and other events of the war, such as East Tennessee’s bridge-burnings in 1861 or the battles for Chattanooga in 1863.

A section on trails offers a statewide map along Tennessee’s Civil War Trail, which now boasts 150 markers. Those markers include sites such as Knoxville’s Old Gray Cemetery, resting place of such figures as Reconstruction-era Gov. William Gannaway "Parson" Brownlow, and Bleak House, which served as Confederate Gen. James Longstreet’s headquarters during the 1863 Siege of Knoxville.

A section on attractions highlights local museums and battlefields, and a section on teaching tools offers lesson plans for schools.

"We hope to grow the site even more as the anniversary gets closer," said Carroll Van West, a professor of history at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro and co-chairman of the state’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission.

The Web site also promotes five conferences to be held around the state during the sesquicentennial, each focusing on a separate aspect of the war. Knoxville hosts its conference in 2015 on Reconstruction.

Henderson said the society plans to post its own calendar on the ETHS Web site to promote other events close to home.

"We’ll be maintaining that calendar for the region," she said. "There’ll be lots of seminars and programs at the local level. We want to have an annual series of exhibits that stretch through 1861-1865 that we’re hoping can travel across the region."

Other events planned or under discussion include a 2012 exhibit at the East Tennessee History Center on Abraham Lincoln and the Constitution, sponsored by the American Library Association and the National Constitutional Center, and a restaging of the 1890 Blue-Gray Reunion, one of the first nation’s first events to bring together veterans from North and South.

"We’d love to recreate the reunion," Henderson said. "But it would be hard to have a major encampment downtown. We’d have to work out a location."

She and others expect interest in the war to boom over the next few years and hope an online presence will help feed that interest.

"The site certainly has a lot of potential, and it looks like it’s got a lot to offer," said Steve Cotham, Knox County historian and director of the McClung Historical Collection.

© 2010, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.

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