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States scrimp on Civil War events

Taxpayer funds short for 150th anniversary

Jan. 13, 2011 - 03:12PM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 13, 2011 - 03:12PM  |  
The New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs has the largest collection of Civil War flags in the nation, and New York has many other ties to the war. But New York and other states are having trouble coming up with funding for commemorations of the war's 150th anniversary.
The New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs has the largest collection of Civil War flags in the nation, and New York has many other ties to the war. But New York and other states are having trouble coming up with funding for commemorations of the war's 150th anniversary. (The Associated Press)
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New York state contributed 448,000 troops and $150 million to the Union cause during the Civil War, not to mention untold tons of supplies, food, guns and munitions.

But with the 150th anniversary of the war's start just months away, the New York state government so far has failed to scrounge up a single Yankee dollar to commemorate the conflict it played such a major role in winning.

New York isn't alone. Other states with similar budget woes are unable or unwilling to use taxpayer funds for historic re-enactments and museum exhibits when public employees are being laid off and services slashed.

Even South Carolina, where the war's first shots were fired upon Fort Sumter in April 1861, has declined to provide government funding for groups planning events in the Palmetto State.

"State money right now is hard to find for anything," said New York state historian Robert Weible.

At least 21 states have formed commissions, committees or initiatives to commemorate the 150th anniversary of America's bloodiest war, starting this year and running into 2015. Of those, Virginia and Pennsylvania seem to be leading the way in efforts to plan, promote and stage Civil War commemorations.

The Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission has received $2 million from the state each year since 2008, said Cheryl Jackson, executive director.

Sixty percent of Civil War battles were fought in Virginia, home to the Confederate capital, Richmond, "so it's natural that the state take the lead," said James I. "Bud" Robertson Jr., a Virginia Tech history professor and state commission member.

Pennsylvania has collected nearly $5 million in government funding for its commemoration, said Barbara Franco, executive director of the state's Historical and Museum Commission.

The key, she said, was Pennsylvania's decision to start its planning in 2007, just before the economy tanked and government coffers shriveled.

On the federal level, the National Park Service is coordinating Civil War events planned through 2015 at more than 75 battlefields and historic sites, as well as at museums and other privately operated sites.

On the state level, various local and regional groups are being enlisted to muster resources for 150th anniversary events.

"Perhaps this grass-roots approach provides more opportunities to get down to the real issues that a national commission would never be able to do," Franco said.

New York so far doesn't plan to create a commemoration commission. But Weible said talks have begun between his office and local history-related entities to come up with ways to mark the war in coming years.

"Our concern right now is trying to get everybody on the same page," he said. "You don't need money to make good things happen."

New York is counting on local historians, re-enactment groups and the approximately 20 Civil War round-tables across the state to help organize anniversary commemorations without government funding.

Despite the lack of an official role by New York, Weible said he's certain the state's legacy in the war between the states will be properly honored over the next five years.

"We've got a great story," he said. "Stay tuned. Things are happening. We're going to make this work."

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