Tennessee Tech University will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War with guest speakers, living history and period music at the Sesquicentennial Signature Event Sept. 6 and 7.
The event will kick off with a talk by Gary Gallagher, Civil War historian and professor at the University of Virginia at 7 p.m. Sept. 6 in Derryberry Auditorium and will be followed by a series of events the next day.
“There’s a sense among many, particularly in the South, that Americans are forgetting about the war, particularly how it shaped our country, state and region,” TTU associate professor of history Kent Dollar said. “I think Americans should want to know all there is to know about their history, especially about the greatest crisis ever to fact the nation. It informs us about who we are today.”
Among other things, the Civil War can be blamed for poverty in the South because the remnants of the Confederate states were forced to pay the war debt, race issues that plague the country to this day and generations of court cases because many records were destroyed during the war. The South also got public-supported education for the first time after the war.
To commemorate the anniversary, the Upper Cumberland Civil War Roundtable began planning to bring a speaker to Cookeville a year ago, according to Dollar, who is president of the 45-member group. The first military engagement in the state during the war was in Travisville, approximately 60 miles from the TTU campus.
In early 2011, the Tennessee Sesquicentennial Commission began scouting Middle Tennessee for locations for this year’s event. A letter writing campaign led by local Civil War enthusiasts, along with the support of Lee Curtis, director of program development at the state tourism department, and Ann Toplovich, chairperson of the Commission, and the TTU history department, convinced the commission to partner with what the Roundtable was doing to create the signature event.
The Commission began a five-year series of events last year in Nashville and plans to move the signature events around the state, to commemorate what happened in each region.
“In a nutshell, this was a divided region,” TTU professor of history Michael Birdwell said. “There were no major battles fought in the Upper Cumberland, but armies moved through here. Many people who went off to fight and came home wounded got conscripted into the other army, so you had some people from around here who fought for both sides.”
“It was brother against brother in a lot of families,” he said.
On the second day, Brian McKnight, a Civil War historian and professor from the University of Virginia at Wise, will talk about Champ Ferguson, who led a group of guerrillas all over Tennessee in support of the Confederacy. Ferguson, who was from Sparta, was one of only two people executed after the war for war crimes. His brother, James Ferguson, fought for the Union army.
“With at least one Civil War battle fought in each of Tennessee’s 95 counties, this state was a crucial location for both the Union and Confederate armies,” TTU President Bob Bell, who is also a member of the Roundtable, said. “We’re proud that TTU, 150 years later, can be the location for a commemoration with such a rich heritage and historical significance.”
In addition to the events taking place at TTU, the Cookeville museum is asking families to bring artifacts or documents left over from the Civil War to be photographed or copied so they can be digitally preserved.
Between 3,000 and 5,000 people are expected to attend the events, including more than 1,000 school-age children. The speakers will be on the main campus, but living history and demonstrations will be held at the Hyder-Burks Pavilion.
“All eyes in the state are going to turn to us next week,” Dollar said. “People who never thought about Tech will be on our campus, in our facilities.”
All events are free and open to the public. For a complete listing of events, go to http://tnvacation.com/civil-war/events.