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April 17, 2011

In North, Civil War sites, events long 'forgotten'

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. — The gravesite of a Union Army major general sits largely forgotten in a small cemetery along the Massachusetts Turnpike.

A piece of the coat worn by President Abraham Lincoln when he was assassinated rests quietly in a library attic in a Boston suburb. It's shown upon request, a rare occurrence.

A monument honoring one of the first official Civil War black units stands in a busy intersection in front of the Massachusetts Statehouse, barely gaining notice from the hustle of tourists and workers who pass by each day.

As the nation marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, states in the old South — the side that lost — are hosting elaborate re-enactments, intricate memorials, even formal galas highlighting the war's persistent legacy in the region. But for many states in the North — the side that won — only scant, smaller events are planned in an area of the nation that helped sparked the conflict but now, historians say, struggles to acknowledge it.

"It's almost like it never happened," said Annie Murphy, executive director of the Framingham History Center in Framingham, Mass. "But all you have to do is look around and see evidence that it did. It's just that people aren't looking here."

Massachusetts, a state that sent more than 150,000 men to battle and was home to some of the nation's most radical abolitionists, created a Civil War commemoration commission just earlier this month. Aging monuments stand unattended, sometimes even vandalized. Sites of major historical events related to the war remain largely unknown and often compete with the more regionally popular American Revolution attractions.

Meanwhile, states like Arkansas, Virginia, North Carolina and Missouri not only established commissions months, if not years ago, but also have ambitious plans for remembrance around well-known tourist sites and events. In South Carolina, for example, 300 Civil War re-enactors participated last week in well-organized staged battles to mark the beginning of the war.

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