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Academic kickoff Thursday for Civil War Sesquicentennial

Conference to look at how the South changed the world



International academics will be collecting at the College of Charleston on Thursday for "Civil War — Global Conflict," a three day conference looking at the Civil War's impact on the world stage.

Shots fired at Fort Sumter in the Charleston Harbor nearly 150 years ago started the war between the Union and the Confederacy, but both sides waged diplomatic skirmishes across the Atlantic as the fate of America's slave-holders reshaped the global perception of slavery. These issues and more will get a healthy vetting in the conference hosted by the College of Charleston's Carolina Lowcountry and the Atlantic World Program (CLAW). Four years ago, the college hosted an event recognizing the 200th anniversary of the abolishment of the British slave trade that looked at the impact that decision had on Charleston. Now, the tables are turned as scholars look at what impact Charleston and the Confederacy had on the rest of the world.

"What was going on in the South was not something that only had effects and consequences here in the South," says CLAW associate director Simon Lewis. The war in America further strained the relationship between the Canadian territories and Britain and provided important lessons as our northern neighbor developed its own federation. Italian Gen. Giuseppe Garibaldi briefly flirted with the idea of leading Union troops and prodded Lincoln on emancipation. Impacts of the war were also felt in Japan, Ireland, Brazil, Jamaica, and a host of other countries. "You've got all of these really interesting waves swirling around," Lewis says.

The Civil War strained diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Britain and nearly drove the two countries to war. In the end, Britain's neutrality played a key role in the outcome of the war, Lewis notes. "The single biggest impact that Britain diplomacy had is that they refused to recognize the Confederate states." That led to cloak and dagger espionage as the Confederacy sought resources and artillery. Obviously, to little avail.

Two panels on Saturday will be of particular interest to Charlestonians. "Acting Locally, Reacting Globally" includes panelists Joe Kelly on his studies of Charleston abolitionist Angelina Grimké and John Harris who has written Nothing to Do But Quit the Country, a look at John Drayton's efforts to start over in Mexico. The panel will be at 9 a.m Saturday in the Stern Center Ballroom.

The conference's closing panel Saturday will be "What we (should) remember about the Civil War, and how and why we (should) remember it," including insight from Civil War historians and authors, as well as Mike Allen of the National Park Service, who has been developing Sesquicentennial events in Charleston, and Joseph McGill of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who has been chronicling his own experiences lodging in old slave cabins. The panel will be at 3:30 p.m. in the Stern Center Ballroom.

The college will be hosting several events over the next few years that chart the entire arc of the Civil War, including a 2013 conference on African American literature and a 2015 interfaith memorial service planned to honor the hundreds of thousands who died in the war. The next conference, "Jews, Slavery, and the Civil War" will be May 24-25. For more information on "Civil War — Global Conflict" and other upcoming forums, visit

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