Civil War Sesquicentennial

National Gallery of Art walking tourIf you’ve ever driven through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, or Virginia, you’ve likely seen evidence of the Civil War – monuments, signs, statues, cemeteries, and more. But remnants of the war aren’t just found on the land where battles were fought.

Pay a visit to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in downtown Washington, D.C., for example, and you’ll learn that Congress authorized the Treasury Secretary to issue paper currency in 1861 and subsequently build the Bureau due to insufficient coinage to pay war costs. There’s no time like now (and the next few years) to contemplate such things, and there is no shortage of ways to do so. 150 years later, the country is recognizing the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Civil War with events and exhibitions over a four-year period.

Washington, D.C. has begun adding to its cultural and educational offerings already, with more to come: the reopening of the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum in 2011, a satellite of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine (under restoration until late 2012 or early 2013), the Ford’s Theatre Center for Education and Leadership (opened earlier this year), and the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture (set to open in 2015). Between ongoing and special events, a visit to D.C. can definitely keep you busy and engaged with Civil War commemoration. From the Capitol Visitor Center, a tour called “Capitol and the Congress During the Civil War” is offered Monday through Friday at 3:30pm. While visiting the old Supreme Court Chamber, as well as the old Senate Chamber you will hear about important debates during the Civil War and the role played by Congress. The National Portrait Gallery will have rotating exhibitions through 2015, marking each year of the war. Right next door at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, a temporary exhibition opening November 16 will examine how American artists reacted to the Civil War and its repercussions. “The Civil War and American Art” will remain open through April 28, 2013 and highlights paintings by Winslow Homer, Eastman Johnson, Frederic Church, and Sanford Gifford among the 77 works on display (59 paintings and 18 vintage photographs).

In addition to the official events going on as part of the sesquicentennial, you can join Context on one of the Washington, D.C. walks, many of which include a look at art or consider events associated with the Civil War. You’ll likely discuss Civil War-era figures during your American Biography walk at the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum as you explore American history and identity. During the America’s Collection, The National Gallery of Art you’ll see the Shaw Memorial, commissioned from the celebrated American sculptor Augustus Saint–Gaudens in the early 1880s and dedicated as a monument in 1897. The work commemorates Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the men of the Massachusetts 54th, the first Civil War regiment of African Americans enlisted in the North. If you’re looking to explore politics, enjoy the Gov Works, a Politics Primer walk during which you’ll discuss documents housed at the National Archives, such as the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln enthusiasts won’t want to miss the Lincoln Monument, a stop during the Front Yard America, the Mall from L’Enfant to Maya Lin walk, which begins by the reflecting pool in front of the Capitol.