State joins Civil War sesqui march
Dardenne will name special commission to plan observances
By John Andrew Prime • January 14, 2011
The 150th anniversary of the nation's bloodiest war, whose lessons and legacies haunt even today, begins in April, but until recently Louisiana, a pivotal player in the conflict, had no central planning body to prepare for events that could prove an international tourist draw.
That soon could change.
Late last week, Gov. Bobby Jindal's office said Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne would be free to name a commission along the lines of those formed by more than a dozen other states, with caveats.
"Lt. Governor Dardenne has requested to establish a commission to commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War," an e-mail from Jindal's office, after a Times query, said. "We've agreed to allow the Lt. Governor to establish and appoint such a commission so long as the members serve on a voluntary basis and there is no increased cost to the state."
That's good enough for Dardenne, who long has had an interest in marking the events of the conflict that rent the state into factions for more than a decade after the conflict ended, and whose office is responsible for tourism and tourism development.
"We're behind the curve a little bit with what other states are doing," said Dardenne, whose office encompasses tourism and tourist development. "I'm anxious to see what other states have done. I think its' a tremendous tourist opportunity for the state because we have such a rich history, not only in terms of Civil War battles, but also Lincoln's plans for Reconstruction, which were focused around Louisiana. There's a lot of different angles that play into Louisiana's history and need to be remembered and examined during the course of the Sesquicentennial."
States that already have Civil War Sesquicentennial Commissions active or in formation include Virginia, Arkansas, Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maine, Texas, Tennessee, Indiana, Wisconsin, Vermont, Kentucky, Missouri, Iowa, Georgia, Mississippi, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Dardenne already has a couple of commission candidates in mind: Shreveport historian and Civil War author Gary D. Joiner, and a fellow Shreveporter, Tom Pressly, an avid Civil War historian and researcher whose interests include Civil War battlefield medicine.
The area also has other possible commission members: Blanchard-area resident Chuck McMichael, the immediate past National Commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and a key planner in that group's sesquicentennial calendar; Dr. C.O. Simpkins, a Shreveport dentist and Civil Rights icon who is researching possible Civil War Confederate ancestry; and former Greenwood Mayor Ernest Lampkins, who is active in caring for military burial grounds and whose active interest in history aided research that provided details of the kidnapping of an ancestor in Africa before the Civil War and sold into slavery here. That ancestor was a tribal chieftain, whose hereditary position has passed down to Lampkins.
"There's an embarrassment of riches in Shreveport," Dardenne said of commissioner choices in Shreveport, which had a pivotal role in the war. "This shows beyond all doubt that this state cares about its past, the past of not just one side but everybody," Joiner said. "The story has to be told from all sides to make sense."
Louisiana's role in the Civil War was pivotal. In addition to the capture of New Orleans in early 1862, the state was a site of major activity associated with the siege and capture of Vicksburg, Miss., in early to mid-1863. Louisiana also ranks in the top five states in terms of Civil War battles and skirmishes fought. Major actions included the battle for Baton Rouge in mid-1862; the siege of Port Hudson in mid-1863; and the paired battles of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill in April 1864, where victory by the Confederates ended Union President Abraham Lincoln's dream of cutting Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas out of the Confederacy.
Nationally, not much progress has been made in establishing a commission to plan for the Sesquicentennial other than a website from the National Park Service. The centennial, observed from 1961 to 1965, was a huge tourist draw, with a national commission directing activities that drew millions of tourists and their money from across the globe.
Mary Landrieu, Louisiana's senior U.S. Senator, teamed in late 2009 with Virginia Sen. Jim Webb to introduce legislation, echoing a previous effort by her predecessor J. Bennett Johnston in 1996, to establish a national Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, but it has languished in committee. Other efforts, including one by U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois, have also gotten nowhere.
"The Civl War was a defining moment in our Nation's history, and we must remember the legacies of this horrific conflict that brought about the end of slavery at the cost of 620,000 American lives," Landrieu said. "It is extremely unfortunate that time ran out on the 111th Congress before it could pass the Civil War Sesquicentennial Act of 2009 that Senator Jim Webb of Virginia and I co-sponsored in the Senate. Though time is now short, Senator Webb and I will continue to push for the establishment of a national commission to give this turning point in American history the commemoration that it deserves."