CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - Civil War re-enactors raised an American flag at the Fort Sumter National Monument during a ceremony on Tuesday commemorating the 150th anniversary of the symbolic end to the four-year conflict in the place where it began.
A band led dozens of visitors into Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor where an actor portraying Major General Robert Anderson spoke the same words uttered by Anderson on April 14, 1865, when he raised the Union flag again at the fort he had surrendered at the start of the fighting four years earlier.
“It’s very emotional,” said David Valentine, 57, a re-enactor from Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, who was part of the fife- and-drum corps at the flag-raising ceremonies held throughout the day.
“We do it to honor the men who fought the war, and we do this to enhance our understanding of what those soldiers lived through,” said Valentine, who also took part last week in the re-enactment of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender on April 9, 1865, at Appomattox Court House in Virginia.
The re-raising of the flag over the fort recalled the 1865 celebration there that President Abraham Lincoln had ordered be held to mark the end of the war that cost some 700,000 lives.
The 1865 festivities, attended by hundreds of people who gathered at the fort and in boats surrounding it, was overshadowed in history by Lincoln’s assassination while watching a play that night in Washington.
“It’s very sad to think about,” said Kate Everitt, the National Park Service’s curator for the Fort Sumter museum. “Lincoln put so much time and effort in the planning of this event.”
The fort’s museum holds the U.S. flag that flew over Fort Sumter in 1861 before it was replaced by the Confederate flag.
The ceremony on Tuesday, part of a national four-year commemoration of the Civil War, came after a week of international attention focused on the nearby city of North Charleston, where a white police officer has been charged with murder after shooting a black man in the back.
Michael Allen, community partnership specialist with the National Park Service in Charleston, said it was ironic that the current events were coinciding with “a historical event that represented a sea change in America.”
“The Civil War has tentacles in what we’re facing today,” Allen said. “The residue is still there. History can never escape us. We just have to open our eyes to see it.”
Additional reporting by Randall Hill; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Cooney