Monday, March 21, 2011

More About St. Louis in the Civil War

The St. Louis Post Dispatch looks back at the incidents leading up to the City’s loss of control over its own police department back during the civil war.  And the death of 35 citizens and soldiers.

I’m not sure how I feel about the 150th anniversary observances of the Civil War.  It was ugly and bloody and other than writing about it and maybe laying a few wreaths at Arlington and other national cemeteries, I’m not sure we should be doing much more. But I suppose Civil War re-enactors demand more.  From an article last week:

A re-enactment of a bloody riot on Olive Street will be the first big attraction among local observances planned for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.


Missouri's secessionist governor, Claiborne Fox Jackson, had mustered the state militia to the site of present-day St. Louis University in hopes of seizing the U.S. arsenal on the Mississippi River at Arsenal Street. Troops under Union Capt. Nathaniel Lyon marched to the militia camp, named in Jackson's honor, and quickly obtained its surrender. But as Lyon assembled his captives on Olive near Compton Avenue, gunfire erupted between troops and mob.

Do we really want to re-enact things like this?   I know it is history but do we really need to re-enact it?  Someday will there be a re-enactment of the Watts Riots? Why would they consider this? And “events” like this will be held during the four year commemoration of the War.  

But of course, history buffs travel.  And spend money.

"St. Louis has a big story to tell in this watershed period of our nation," she said. "History buffs, known in our business as heritage travelers, stay longer and spend more money than typical travelers."

I don’t know why this bothers me so much.  In general, historical re-enactments fascinate me.  But this state is so divided right now that it wouldn’t surprise me if the re-enactment of the Civil War led to more division.  Really and truly – I’m pretty sure there are Confederate sympathizers still living in Missouri.  

Frank Aufmuth, an organizer of the Camp Jackson event, said re-enactors from at least 10 states would form up near the north entrance of the St. Louis County park. He said the scene in 1861 was a confusion of blue-clad Union soldiers, allied German immigrant units in plain clothes, surrendering Missouri militiamen wearing blue or gray uniforms and an angry mob all around them.

Yep.  That’s what we need.  Staged angry mobs. 

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

Evocative. That was the word that kept coming to my mind in the first half of Esi Edugyan's Booker Prize nominated novel Washington Bl...