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Bay State to mark role in Civil War

Benny White, left, and other Civil War reenactors were on hand at the State House Monday to help mark events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.Bill Greene/Globe staff/Boston Globe

Massachusetts is steeped in the American Revolution, but a commission has kicked off a campaign to commemorate the Bay State’s contributions in the Civil War as part of the sesquicentennial of the conflict that pitted North against South.

“The contribution of Massachusetts to the war effort was profound: The state provided more than 140,000 troops,’’ Robert Wolfgang, a State House ranger and chairman of the Massachusetts Sesquicentennial Commission, said in a speech in the House chambers Monday, the 147th anniversary of the surrender of Confederate forces.

Governor Deval Patrick created the commission last year.

“That amount is equal to more than 50 percent of eligible men,’’ Wolfgang said, referring to the number of troops the state supplied.


“It furnished 3,000 black troops and established two black regiments, including the Massachusetts 54th, the North’s first black regiment,’’ he said. “They showed the rest of the nation that blacks deserved the same rights as whites.’’

The Civil War took more than 618,000 lives, of which about 6,115 were from Massachusetts.

“The war created modern America, it brought a centralized nation state, a national income tax, paper currency known as the greenback, conscription, federally-funded school,’’ said Wolfgang, who heads the 21-member volunteer commission.

The agency’s website, www.Ma150.org, serves as a clearinghouse for events by various organizations throughout the state to commemorate the war.

Those events include lectures on four generals of the Civil War - Robert E. Lee, U.S. Grant, James Longstreet, and William T. Sherman - that will run from April 19 to May 17 in North Attleborough.

There will also be a demonstration of bayonet and firing drills in Stoughton’s Faxon Park on April 21.

Other events include an encampment with Civil War reenactors at Borderland State Park in Easton this fall.

The commission is charged with developing a program of activities commemorating the Civil War, its veterans, and the contributions of Massachusetts as a leading state of the Union during the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.


The commission is also seeking to create an inventory of places associated with the Civil War in Massachusetts and recommendations on ways to designate, mark, interpret, and acknowledge historic sites, according to the order.

The commission is currently working on that inventory and Project Legacy, a compilation of Civil War era documents, including letters from the battlefield.

The commission is asking residents to contribute Civil War-related documents to the project.

At the State House ceremony on Monday, commission member John Stauffer, a Harvard professor of English and American literature and African-American studies, talked about the influence that abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who lived in New Bedford and Lynn as an adult, had on Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.

Stauffer said Lincoln had a strategy meeting with Douglass during a crucial time in his campaign for reelection.

He also mentioned the contributions of the famed all-black 54th Regiment, which trained at Camp Meigs in Readville and whose bravery was memorialized in the film “Glory.’’

The commission will be active through 2015.

Brian R. Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @globeballou.