During the Bicentennial of the American Revolution, several official commissions from states that were among the original 13 colonies released series of publications dealing with local aspects of the war. Among these were New York and Connecticut, and for the specialist researcher some of these largely out of print titles often contain information not readily available elsewhere. New York still makes several of these short titles available, but most of the rest will set you back a considerable amount, if you can even find a decent copy of what were originally inexpensively produced pamphlets and short paperbacks.
Titles such as "Connecticut Attacked: A British Viewpoint, Tryon's Raid on Danbury" and "The Hudson Valley in the American Revolution" elevated the significance of local contributions to the war effort or incidents which may have been sideshows to the big show but helped forge modern connections to our Independence struggle. Many were published early in the Bicentennial, indicating a significant amount of prior planning and research.
As Jill LePore discusses in her excellent analysis in the New Yorker of the historic underpinnings of the modern "tea party" movement, some of these local efforts may have been in deliberate counterpoint to Nixon's Bicentennial Commission, which was viewed with great skepticism during those turbulent times of social unrest in this country. The backlash against celebrating the Revolution without also addressing its checkered legacy caused a number of commemorative events to be usurped by protesters engaged in a modern cultural revolution that was, in fact, televised.
On the eve of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, many states that participated in the conflict have not yet established commissions or invested in discussing what to remember and how to interpret it. Connecticut is one of the few New England States where there is such an effort, and a centerpiece of its work will be a new publication: Civil War Connecticut: From Slavery to Commemoration (Wesleyan University Press, forthcoming 2011). This book is intended to "tell the story of Connecticut's role and connection to the Great Rebellion, from attitudes towards slavery and abolition, to the initial call for troops and why they fought, to the state's incredible war-related industry, as well as the intense animosity among some to the Lincoln administration and the war. And, finally, a discussion of how the war has been memorialized throughout the state, with monuments dotting Connecticut towns and cities."
For a buff like me, this book will be a welcome addition to my library. Yet the complimentary efforts of the Sesquicentennial Commission, including curriculum partnerships with primary and secondary schools across the state, scholarly articles and a documentary film, have the potential to engage those who live in Connecticut today with the significance of long ago events with local connections. Particularly in this Northern state which raised two regiments of colored troops and was the birthplace of both Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Brown, slavery and its aftermath will be a prominent part of the commemoration. One cannot honestly engage with the Civil War without discussing race and slavery (as, indeed, is true of the Revolution as well).
There may be a backlash from some in Barack Obama's America against a more multicultural, more nuanced study and remembrance of this period in our nation's past. Those who resist discussions of the wider implications of events that took place on what many consider hallowed ground, who prefer to honor the heritage and sacrifice of their soldier ancestors rather than examine the choices they made and the social context in which they acted, have trouble with this kind of scrutiny. To me, it is not a question of one or the other. Ulysses Grant would write about the surrender at Appomattox that he was "depressed at the defeat of a foe who had fought so valiantly [for] the worst cause for which anyone ever fought." History is nothing if not filled with paradox and contradiction, as is humanity.