Shared Stories of the Civil War on tap at historic site

Friday, October 21, 2011

By Jason E. Silvers

The Fort Scott Tribune

Fort Scott National Historic Site officials said they hope a new upcoming event will get people thinking about the topics of loyalty and allegiance.

The site will present "Pledging Allegiance," a Shared Stories of the Civil War reading and discussion event at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29, in the site's grand hall.

"Pledging Allegiance" is part of Shared Stories of the Civil War, a collection of reader's theater scripts created from historical letters, diaries, newspaper articles, and other archival documents from the 1850s and 60s. The scripts explore the events -- the shared stories -- that occured in Kansas and Missouri during the Border War and the Civil War.

"This is the first time we've presented it," National Park Service Historian Bill Fischer said. "The Kansas Humanities Council has been putting it together the last few years. This is the first time for us to do one of these reader's theater events."

Fischer, who will serve as host for the event, said the purpose of the event is to get people to think about what the issues of loyalty and allegiance meant "during the Civil War and over time." He said the event should last about 90 minutes, but could go longer depending on the amount of discussion.

"The audience will hopefully be intrigued and provoked to think about the issues presented," he said.

Fischer said each of five volunteers have scripts dealing with the topics of divided allegiances and loyalties that they will each read in turn. Fischer will provide some introductory information and then volunteers will read the material, which could be an excerpt from a letter, a journal entry, a contemporary newspaper article, or other document from the time period.

All of the material has been examined thoroughly by professors, scholars and others with knowledge of topics that will be presented and discussed, Fischer said.

Audience members will hear multiple perspectives from people in Kansas and Missouri during the mid-1800s, ranging from people who were pro-secession or pro-union, to people who "just wanted to be left alone to subsistence farm and were caught in the middle," Fischer said.

"Hopefully we'll get people to think about what it means to pledge allegiance," he said.

At the conclusion of the reading, Fischer will put forth questions for discussion.

A news release said Americans of every creed and culture, in times of conflict, have had their loyalties called into question -- have had to prove to doubters by word or deed that they were on the "right" side. The American Civil War was a period famous for divided loyalties: countryman fighting countryman, brother against brother, houses divided. North or South? Union or Confederacy?

Most Kansans by 1861 -- the year the Civil War began -- had long chosen their loyalties as a result of seven years of territorial infighting. Most Kansans in 1861 supported the United States and the anti-slavery movement. Those who did not, who had survived the Bleeding Kansas days, had left the state or generally kept quiet about their secessionist sympathies.

But neighboring Missouri -- a slave state -- was a more complex place to live. There the choices of which side to take, or of which government to support, grew more complicated in the early months of the war. There one's answer could have immediate and devastating consequences, the release said.

"It was a brutal time," Fischer said.

Fischer said the site is planning to conduct similar events two times per year throughout the next two years.

Shared Stories of the Civil War is a partnership between Freedom's Frontier National Heritage Area and the KHC. FFNHA is a partnership of 41 counties in eastern Kansas and western Missouri dedicated to connecting the stories of settlement, the Border War and the Enduring Struggle for Freedom in this area, the release said.

KHC is a nonprofit organization promoting understanding of the history and ideas that shape peoples' lives and strengthen their sense of community.

For more information, visit www.freedomsfrontier.org or www.kansashumanities.org.

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