CHARLESTON, S.C. — Booming cannons, plaintive period music and hushed crowds ushered in the 150th anniversary of America's bloodiest war on Tuesday, a commemoration that continues to underscore a racial divide that had plagued the nation since before the Civil War.
The events marked the 150th anniversary of the Confederate bombardment of Union-held Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, an engagement that plunged the nation into four years of war at a cost of more than 600,000 lives.
Several hundred people gathered on Charleston's Battery in the predawn darkness, much as Charleston residents gathered 150 years ago to view the bombardment of April 12, 1861.
About 4 a.m., a single beam of light reached skyward from the stone works of Fort Sumter. About a half-hour later, about the time the first shots were fired, a second beam glowed, signifying a nation torn in two. Nearby, a brass ensemble played a concert titled When Jesus Wept as hundreds listened, some in folding chairs, others standing.
Fifty years ago during the centennial of the Civil War, there was a celebratory mood. But on Tuesday, the 150th anniversary events were muted.
At the White House, President Barack Obama captured the somber mood in a proclamation that the date would be the first day of the Civil War Sesquicentennial. "On this milestone in American history, we remember the great cost of the unity and liberty we now enjoy, causes for which so many have laid down their lives," the statement released by the White House said.
Of about 1,200 people attending two main commemorative events, only a handful were black. One man whose Confederate ancestor is credited with firing the first shot of the war, John Hugh Farley of Roswell, Ga., acknowledged his family legacy as 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."
Danny Lucas, 53 and black, visited Charleston's Old Slave Mart Museum, where the history of Charleston's role as an urban slave trading center is recounted. "I have no problem with the Civil War being honored as long as it is inclusive," said Lucas, a Ridgeland, S.C., resident.