In 2011, 150 years after the Civil War began, the nation will commemorate its most divisive conflict, which ended slavery and preserved the Union at the cost of 620,000 lives. At locations across the country, Americans will be able to watch historical re-enactments and explore special exhibits that will roll out, like the war itself, over four years.
Many events marking the anniversary will take place at the battlefields. The Civil War Preservation Trust (www.civilwar.org) can help you map out an itinerary across some 600 battlefield sites along the Civil War Discovery Trail, including Bull Run in Manassas, Va., Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, and Vicksburg in Mississippi. The Trust is also launching Battle Apps, an iPhone application that will use a GPS system to guide visitors around the battlefields while streaming video guides, readings of firsthand testimonies, and archives of historical content right to their fingertips. People who don't have an iPhone can obtain a guide at the larger parks or download a map from the Trust's website.
Many Civil War sites are still developing sesquicentennial plans, so it's a good idea to check a battlefield or museum website for up-to-date information. You can also go to the National Park Service's Civil War anniversary site (www.nps.gov/civilwar/civwar150.html) for state-by-state details. Major museums are planning special events too. The National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pa., for example, will launch annual special exhibits tied to key happenings during each year of the war. The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., displays Civil War art and artifacts on a permanent basis, including the flag of truce (a white linen dish towel) waved by Confederate troops at the closing battle at Appomattox (www.civilwar.si.edu).
For those who can't travel, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Library Association have partnered to compile Civil War books and other materials that will be distributed to libraries nationwide. Or, you can watch a documentary, such as Ken Burns's seminal PBS series, The Civil War. "There's really been a revolution in Civil War history," says historian and University of Richmond President Edward Ayers. Over the past 150 years, researchers have been able to capture the viewpoints of all participants, from soldiers and former slaves to government leaders and women, so that Americans can experience this history more vividly.