Martin: Is the Civil War over?

One hundred and fifty years later, is the Civil War finally over?

On Saturday, we will mark the 150th anniversary of the April 26, 1865 final surrender by Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston of approximately 90,000 troops to Gen. William T. Sherman, effectively ending the hostilities of the nation’s Civil War.

NC Bookwatch by D.G. Martin

NC Bookwatch
by D.G. Martin

Some of us have spent the last two months marking 150th anniversaries of the events leading up to Bennett Place, beginning in early March with the arrival in North Carolina of Gen. Sherman’s Union army and its occupation of Fayetteville. On March 21st and 22nd, we remembered the Battle of Bentonville, the last major battle of the war and the largest ever fought in North Carolina.

We marked Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox on April 9th and President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination on April 14th and his death the following day.

My 5-year-old grandson, David, is mesmerized by battles and war, until recently mostly by the conflicts between the bad guys and the good guys in Star Wars. That changed when my wife gave him a set of Civil War soldiers with weapons, flags, and other props that let him set up battle scenes with the Confederate troops facing the Union men.

He calls it the “Silver War.” The other day he asked us which side are the good guys and which side has the bad guys.

We were stumped. As Southerners we did not want to say that our guys were fighting for the wrong cause. We just mumbled something and he went back to setting up a battle.

Seventy years ago, when I was five, my grandparents would have had no problem with such a question from me. Our guys were the good guys. The boys in blue were the enemy, the ones who burned our homes and took away our cattle.

They might have pointed to the family’s “Sherman cup,” an ancient but solid coffee cup. Its handle had been broken off. According to our family’s tradition, when Sherman’s army ransacked the family home they broke everything in the house. But, although they threw the cup down several times, it refused to break, losing only its handle.

Skipping back another generation, my grandfather’s father always broke down when he preached his Easter sermon, telling of how, because he was too sickly to fight, his brother had joined the Confederate army and was killed in battle.

“Just as Jesus laid down his life for us, my brother gave his life for me,” he would say, unable to hold back his tears.

Perhaps, as such stories fade from our collective memory, our grandchildren will be free from the bitterness that infected some of us.

But there is a risk, too. If we forget everything about the war, we lose the opportunity to reflect, reevaluate, and learn about the conflict and its aftermath.

Last week, a group gathered at the Governor’s Mansion to announce plans for a North Carolina Civil War History Center to be based in Fayetteville and to tell about historic events from around the state. An early project for the center is to collect 100 Civil War stories from each of our 100 counties. A video, some of the stories already collected, and more information about the new Civil War History Center are available at

The mansion event featured Charles Frazier, author of  Cold Mountain, the book that gave us a different way to re-experience Civil War times, through the travel of a Confederate deserter through an impoverished, troubled countryside to his home in the mountains and a meeting there with the woman he loved.

Such stories, coming from many sources, may tell a more complete picture of the war than our individual family traditions and make it possible for us to finally declare the war to be over.

D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. For information visit

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