As followers of this blog know Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery is one of the great non-battle-related Civil War sites in the nation. Over the past decade cemetery officials have done the city, indeed the entire country, a great service by identifying and marking the graves of the thousands of Union and Confederate dead interred there. Many of these graves, and the stories of those buried in them, would have been lost to history if not for the efforts of cemetery officials and the volunteers who assist them. Walking the grounds one sees their work. The cemetery also hosts a number of Civil War (and other) programming. Now Green-Wood Cemetery will play an even greater role in the war’s commemoration; earlier this week it was named New York City’s official Civil War Headquarters.
The work that Green-Wood and other institutions are doing is more important than ever. Because of the state’s massive budget deficit, government officials have declined to fund an official New York State Sesquicentennial Commission. In contrast, Virginia has given $2 million annually for its sesquicentennial commission since 2008. Given New York’s budget woes, withholding funds makes sense financially. Nonetheless someone must fill in the breach and, thankfully, many institutions and individuals have. A cursory look at organizations planning Civil War related programming in New York City over the next fours years include: Green-Wood, the New-York Historical Society, the American Jewish Historical Society in cooperation with Yeshiva University, the public library systems, and of course the National Park Service’s myriad New York agencies.
It is not just the city where events are underway. For instance, the New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs hopes to have a series of exhibits between now and 2015. There is much to highlight. New York provided more troops to the war effort, 450,000, than any other state, ten percent of whom never returned. Many of the leading figures of the era also resided at least for a time in the Empire State, including Walt Whitman, John Brown, Harriet Tubman, George Templeton Strong, Secretary of State William Seward, and Frederick Douglass. In addition there are sites such as the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Elmira prison, and the factories that churned out much of the materiel for the war effort to remember and hopefully maintain.
All of this is being done without the recognition of a state-sanctioned body. Thankfully a group of New Yorkers have organized to plan and coordinate these activities statewide. Even if no funds are forthcoming with luck Albany may give the New York State Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission its official imprimatur.