South Carolina State Sen. Glenn McConnell, a Civil War re-enactor, at the National Federation of Republican Women's Conference last year
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) -- Thudding cannons and somber music around Charleston Harbor in South Carolina ushered in the commemoration Tuesday of the nation's bloodiest conflict, with the North and South still deeply split on many issues a century and a half later.
The events re-creating the siege of Fort Sumter began the four-year national observance of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
"The War Between the States triggered generations of disputes and controversies between regions, races and cultures," said state Sen. Glenn McConnell, president pro tempore of the South Carolina Senate and a Civil War re-enactor.
"Why was the war fought? Was it about slavery or states' rights? What does the Confederate battle flag stand for? Is it a symbol of bigotry or a memorial to the valor of fallen soldiers," he asked about 700 people gathered at a ceremony commemorating the first shots of the war. "Many of the emotional issues still rage."
The South, he said, has changed and "the time has come to move beyond the petty disputes of the past."
Several hundred people gathered on Charleston's Battery in the dark early Tuesday, in much the same way Charlestonians watched the bombardment of Fort Sumter from their homes 150 years earlier.
Around 4 a.m., a single beam of light reached skyward from the fort and about half-hour later - about the time of the first shots of the Civil War - there was a second beam signifying a nation torn in two.
Nearby, in a bandstand at White Point Garden, a brass ensemble played somber period music in a concert entitled "When Jesus Wept." A crowd of about 500 attended, some sitting in folding chairs or on blankets, but most standing. The applause was subdued.
Later, as the red disk of the rising sun rose over the gray harbor, Confederate re-enactors fired a charge from an authentic 1847 seacoast mortar as a signal to about 30 other cannons ringing the harbor.
Those cannons thudded and smoke could be seen rising across the harbor from batteries as speeches continued.
A black Union re-enactor who represents a soldier from the 54th Massachusetts, the company of black troops that fought at Battery Wagner in 1863 in an attack memorialized in the movie "Glory," threw a wreath into the water and saluted.
Then seven re-enactors in Confederate gray fired a 21-gun salute in memory of all who died on South Carolina soil. Two buglers then echoed "Taps."
In a dispatch to The Associated Press in 1861, an unnamed correspondent observed the fort's parapets crumbling under the pounding of artillery. He wrote of gun emplacements being "shot away" and shells falling "thick and fast."
"The ball has opened. War is inaugurated ... Fort Sumter has returned the fire and brisk cannonading has been kept up," the correspondent wrote.
Sumter fell after a 34 hour bombardment.
John Hugh Farley of Roswell, Ga., pulled the lanyard to fire the mortar to close Tuesday's ceremony. Many historians credit Farley's ancestor, Lt. Henry Farley, as firing the first shot at Sumter.
"It's a real big honor. We are very proud of our family," said Farley, who had two other ancestors fight for the South. "It certainly is a mixed blessing because it's bringing back a memory from way back but it also helps us to look at history and learn from history."