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Fort Sumter and Bull Run Stamps Will Lead Off Civil War 150th Anniversary Commemorative Series


The battle scenes depicted on this year's Civil War 150th anniversary commemorative stamps are reproductions of well known artworks. US Postal Service photo.

This year the U.S. Postal Service will issue stamps commemorating the 150th anniversary of two important Civil War events, the beginning of the war and the first great land battle. National parks preserve the sites of both of these events.

The Confederacy was launched soon after South Carolina seceded from the Union in December 1860, and the Civil War got underway four month later. At 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, Confederate batteries opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, forcing its surrender the next day. No longer a war of words centered on the slavery issue, the Civil War was now a shooting war. Both sides raised armies of eager volunteers who believed that the war would soon be over, and with few casualties to count.

These beliefs were put to a severe test on July 21, 1861, when the first major land battle was fought at Manassas, Virginia. The First Battle of Bull Run -- called the First Battle of Manassas or just "First Manassas" in the South -- yielded a Confederate victory, thousands of casualties, and the sobering realization that both the North and the South might have to raise huge armies, shift their economies to a war footing, and fight a long and costly war.

That's exactly what happened. Union and Confederate forces ended up pounding away at each other in more than 10,000 skirmishes and battles fought in two major theaters during a war that dragged on for four long years, destroyed vast amounts of property, and cost more than 600,000 human lives.

The Civil War was certainly a watershed event in American history. More than just preserving the Union and ending slavery, it also reshaped the national economy, transformed the culture of the South, accelerated technological progress, and profoundly impacted millions of lives for both good and ill.

Over the next four years, the U.S. Postal Service will issue a series of stamps commemorating the Civil War's 150th anniversary. A souvenir sheet of two stamps will be issued each year, with the final issue in 2015.

The first issue is scheduled for release on April 12, 2011, the 150th anniversary of the war's beginning. It will be a sheet of two stamps, one depicting the firing on Fort Sumter and the other depicting the Battle of Bull Run. Additional information about the Civil War stamps and other commemorative stamps to be issued this year can be found at this US Postal Service website.

Phil Jordan, the Postal Service's veteran art director (since 1991), has chosen scenes for the initial Civil War commemorative stamp issue that are well known to Civil War history buffs and art collectors. The Fort Sumter stamp is a reproduction of a Currier & Ives lithograph entitled “Bombardment of Fort Sumter, Charleston Harbor” (ca. 1861). The First Bull Run stamp is a reproduction of “The Capture of Rickett’s Battery," a 1964 painting by Sidney E. King that shows fierce fighting on the Henry Hill site where a key Union battery had been placed.

The stamp pane features comments on the war by President Abraham Lincoln, black abolitionist/human rights leader Frederick Douglass, and Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. (It was at the First Battle of Bull Run that the latter earned his famous nickname.) Also included on the stamp pane are some of the lyrics to “Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier,” a folk song of sacrifice and lament that was popular during the Civil War. The stamp pane’s background image is a ca. 1861 photograph of a Union regiment near Falls Church, Virginia.

Both sites depicted on this initial stamp issue are preserved within the National Park System. Fort Sumter National Monument in Charleston, South Carolina, was established in 1948 and now attracts over three-quarters of a million visitors a year. From the park's Fort Moultrie unit on Sullivans Island, the battered remains of the brick masonry fort (which was repeatedly bombarded by Union gunships during the war) can be viewed from the vantage point of Confederate gunners who opened fired on Fort Sumter during that fateful April day in 1861.

Virginia's Manassas National Battlefield Park, which is located about 20 miles southwest of Washington, DC, preserves and interprets the sites of two major battles, including First Bull Run (First Manassas). At the park's Henry Hill Visitor Center you can see Sidney King's original oil-on-plywood painting of “The Capture of Rickett’s Battery" and then go walk the very ground depicted in the painting (as well as the staunchly-defended Confederate position on Henry Hill where General Thomas J. Jackson earned his nickname "Stonewall").

Postscript: As the name implies, the First Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas) was not the only major battle fought for control of Manassas, a key railroad junction. The Second Battle of Bull Run (Second Manassas), an even larger battle with considerably more casualties, took place August 28–30, 1862, and resulted in another Confederate victory.


Early on in your article, you made note that the Civil War was "no longer a war of words centered on the slavery issue...". Not to make light of the issue, since the owning of slaves is an abhorrent notion---but I was of the understanding that the Civil War was centered on economic issues and that the issue of slavery, initially on the periphery, did not gain major traction until later in the conflict. In elementary school the curriculum centered on slavery because it was an "easier" concept for younger minds to grasp and realize as something that needed to be fought against. But once I reached college, the curriculum tried to instruct a more detailed and "worldview" version of the reasons behind the War. Was my professor just off base and teaching his "version" of events? I realize that slavery could be construed as an economic issue, but how much was slavery actually in the forefront leading up to April 1861? I realize that this is off topic, but I am curious. Thanks.

Toothdoctor, have you ever read the articles of secession for South Carolina (or any other state) that seceded? I have. The one for South Carolina, a copy of which I have right here in front of me, puts slavery front and center as THE issue. There is no wiggle room. It leaves no doubt that the "states rights" involved were the states' rights to own slaves. As the secession documents reveals, South Carolina was particularly incensed that northern states weren't returning escaped slaves (valued property) as they had promised.

No, I have not read any articles of secession for any of the Southern States. My most recent information is only from what I had learned for exams in an American History lecture many years ago. This is why I asked. I wish that I still had more of a clear recollection of what I had learned back then so that I could articulate better my thoughts now. Thank you for pointing out the articles, though. I will have to find copies somewhere and bring myself better up to speed.

An editorial from The (Columbia, SC) State newspaper (December 19, 2010; p. A-8) addresses this issue at great length. The Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union is reprinted in its entirety in that issue of the newspaper, immediately after the editorial

South Carolina's Ordnance of Secession was passed unanimously at 1:15 pm on December 20, 1860. The Declaration was passed six days later. Here is an excerpt from the editorial that accompanied the reprinting of the Declaration:

...they were indeed leaving the union in order to preserve the sovereign rights of the states, but they had only one right in mind: the right to own slaves. The language of the S.C. Declaration is so unambiguous that it is difficult to comprehend that there ever could have been any disagreement over what drove South Carolina to secede. So, before any more breath is wasted in arguing about just what our state will be commemorating on [December 20, 2010, the 150th anniversary of the Ordnance] we are reprinting the Declaration on this page. We would urge anyone who doubts that our state seceded in order to preserve slavery -- or for that matter, anyone who has come to accept the fiction that slavery was merely one of the several cumulative causes -- to read this document.

The editorial goes on to say:

"What we found most striking in rereading the Declaration was the complete absence of any other causes."

It is clear from the Declaration that South Carolina seceded because the Federal government and many Northern states were overreaching their bounds and were not following the US constitution.  Yes, the primary identified concern was slavery; however, it called into question just how far the Federal government was willing to go on *any* issue (a question that remains to this day).  The fact is that slavery would have eventually been abolished by all states anyway.  South Carolina was simply not yet prepared for this ... yet their hand was forced, so they did what they felt they needed to do to survive.  I will be the first to say that I am glad that the rediculous practice of slavery was abolished.    It is and always has been wrong (in every century and in every culture where it has existed).  But I am still disgusted by the way it was handled by the Federal government of that time.  War was not necessary.

From "five myths about why the south seceded:

5. The South couldn’t have made it long as a slave society.

Slavery was hardly on its last legs in 1860. That year, the South
produced almost 75 percent of all U.S. exports. Slaves were worth more
than all the manufacturing companies and railroads in the nation. No
elite class in history has ever given up such an immense interest
voluntarily. Moreover, Confederates eyed territorial expansion into
Mexico and Cuba. Short of war, who would have stopped them — or forced
them to abandon slavery?
To claim that slavery would have ended of
its own accord by the mid-20th century is impossible to disprove but
difficult to accept. In 1860, slavery was growing more entrenched in the
South. Unpaid labor makes for big profits, and the Southern elite was
growing ever richer. Freeing slaves was becoming more and more difficult
for their owners, as was the position of free blacks in the United
States, North as well as South. For the foreseeable future, slavery
looked secure. Perhaps a civil war was required to end it.
As we
commemorate the sesquicentennial of that war, let us take pride this
time — as we did not during the centennial — that secession on slavery’s
behalf failed.

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