Image: 150th Anniversary Of The Start Of The Civil War Marked In Charleston
Richard Ellis  /  Getty Images
Several hundred people gathered on Charleston's Battery in the dark early Tuesday, in much the same way Charlestonians watched the bombardment of Fort Sumter from their homes 150 years earlier.
updated 4/12/2011 11:53:19 AM ET 2011-04-12T15:53:19

Thudding cannons and somber music around Charleston Harbor in South Carolina ushered in the commemoration Tuesday of the nation's bloodiest conflict, with the North and South still deeply split on many issues a century and a half later.

The events re-creating the siege of Fort Sumter began the four-year national observance of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

"The War Between the States triggered generations of disputes and controversies between regions, races and cultures," said state Sen. Glenn McConnell, president pro tempore of the South Carolina Senate and a Civil War re-enactor.

"Why was the war fought? Was it about slavery or states' rights? What does the Confederate battle flag stand for? Is it a symbol of bigotry or a memorial to the valor of fallen soldiers," he asked about 700 people gathered at a ceremony commemorating the first shots of the war. "Many of the emotional issues still rage."

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The South, he said, has changed and "the time has come to move beyond the petty disputes of the past."

Several hundred people gathered on Charleston's Battery in the dark early Tuesday, in much the same way Charlestonians watched the bombardment of Fort Sumter from their homes 150 years earlier.

Around 4 a.m., a single beam of light reached skyward from the fort and about half-hour later — about the time of the first shots of the Civil War — there was a second beam signifying a nation torn in two.

Nearby, in a bandstand at White Point Garden, a brass ensemble played somber period music in a concert entitled "When Jesus Wept." A crowd of about 500 attended, some sitting in folding chairs or on blankets, but most standing. The applause was subdued.

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Later, as the red disk of the rising sun rose over the gray harbor, Confederate re-enactors fired a charge from an authentic 1847 seacoast mortar as a signal to about 30 other cannons ringing the harbor.

Those cannons thudded and smoke could be seen rising across the harbor from batteries as speeches continued.

A black Union re-enactor who represents a soldier from the 54th Massachusetts, the company of black troops that fought at Battery Wagner in 1863 in an attack memorialized in the movie "Glory," threw a wreath into the water and saluted.

Then seven re-enactors in Confederate gray fired a 21-gun salute in memory of all who died on South Carolina soil. Two buglers then echoed "Taps."

C. Aluka Berry/caberry@thestate.  /  AP
Dale Smith, 60, of Johnsonville, S.C. holds a Confederate Naval Jack flag as he looks out to Fort Sumter.

In a dispatch to The Associated Press in 1861, an unnamed correspondent observed the fort's parapets crumbling under the pounding of artillery. He wrote of gun emplacements being "shot away" and shells falling "thick and fast."

"The ball has opened. War is inaugurated ... Fort Sumter has returned the fire and brisk cannonading has been kept up," the correspondent wrote.

Sumter fell after a 34 hour bombardment.

John Hugh Farley of Roswell, Ga., pulled the lanyard to fire the mortar to close Tuesday's ceremony. Many historians credit Farley's ancestor, Lt. Henry Farley, as firing the first shot at Sumter.

"It's a real big honor. We are very proud of our family," said Farley, who had two other ancestors fight for the South. "It certainly is a mixed blessing because it's bringing back a memory from way back but it also helps us to look at history and learn from history."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Civil War’s first battle, 150 years later

  1. Closed captioning of: Civil War’s first battle, 150 years later

    >>> finally tonight, the 150th anniversary of the start of the civil war . the great southern historian shel shelby foote always said "you can't understand the united states unless you understand the civil war ." today they gathered where it started to look back upon what it started, and nbc's ron mott was there in fort sumter , north carolina .

    >> reporter: a crackling predawn fire for confederate re-enactors ready for battle while across charles-to-be harbor just after 4:30 a single beam of light fired into the night sky became two, a stark symbol of a nation divided 150 years ago today. on this the cess qi centennial of the assault on fort sumter , which started america's bloody four-year civil war , wreaths for more than 600,000 people who lost their lives in their years. recognition that such sacrifice proved necessary to form a more perfect union. today's events were cast not as a celebration but a commemoration.

    >> this obviously was the opening shots of what took the united states of america into a terrible civil war . i think in order for us to understand our own people, our own history, we have to understand what that civil war was about.

    >> reporter: slavery of course was at the heart of the fight between north and south , and though the confederates quickly routed union forces here on fort sumter the union ultimately won the war, forever changing the course of american history . president lincoln freed the slaves before war's end, beginning a new kind of struggle for african-americans. what one historian calls a work in progress .

    >> we must always remember that there's great potential in this country, its institutions, in the constitution to further the interests of civil rights and equality and justice. that's the beauty of america.

    >> reporter: a beauty born of painful, self-inflicted wounds ever healing and a flag still flying united. ron mott, nbc news, fort sumter , south carolina .


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