By Caitlin Switzer
DELTA—(November 19, 2013) A capacity turnout of 400 Civil War buffs thronged Delta’s Egyptian Theater for the Civil War Sesquicentennial Celebration Saturday afternoon. Civil War Historian and Musician Danny Agajanian performed on Main Street in Union blue as ticket holders filed into the theater to see a screening of the movie “Copperhead.”
It just might have been the largest crowd the historic theater has seen since 1929.
“During the Great Depression, there was a nationwide phenomenon known as “Bank Night” that started right here in Delta, at the Egyptian Theater,” Delta Historical Museum Director Jim Wetzel said. “When it was introduced, merchants would donate what they could, and you had to be there to win prizes.
“Even a bag of groceries was a big win during the Depression.”
The sold-out Civil War Sesquicentennial was a fundraiser for the Museum, and was organized mainly by Brad Davis of Davis Clothing and Civil War buff Keith Lucy.
“We really had a blast with this,” Wetzel said. “The prize drawings were the big thing—we had seven of them. We are raising money to buy a new microfilm reader for the Museum; the one we have now is so old we can no longer even buy parts. We will not have enough money to fund the whole purchase, but this puts us a good distance closer.”
The Delta Historical Museum is an outstanding local resource, with papers in the collection that date back to 1883.
“We do so much family history research,” Wetzel said. “A new microfilm reader will really help.”
Colorado was not yet a state when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Army General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia in April of 1865, effectively ending the nation’s bloody Civil War. According to the late Jerry Kopel in an article written for the conservative Independence Institute, the assassination of President Lincoln five days later actually delayed Colorado’s entry into the Union.
“Lincoln won re-election without Colorado’s help,” writes Kopel. “His Vice President, Democrat Andrew Johnson, supported the Union. When Lincoln was assassinated, Johnson became president on April 15, 1865. Then began the fight between Democrat Johnson and the Republican Congress, which delayed Colorado’s statehood.”
It was not until 1876, after many failed attempts, that Colorado finally achieved status as the 38th state in the Union, Kopel notes.
Perhaps it is the state’s embattled history and strategic importance to both the Union and the Confederacy that continues to inspire local Civil War buffs even today. Though Confederate partisan ranger units were active in this state between 1861 and 1865, a New Mexico campaign launched by Confederate Brigadier General Henry Sibley in 1862 in an attempt to gain control of Colorado’s gold fields, Nevada’s mineral wealth and California’s ports failed when the Southern armies were defeated at Glorieta Pass. So strongly did Union sympathizers feel that the hoisting of a Confederate flag above a store on Denver’s Larimer Street was enough to spark a citizen uprising in 1861, according to an account of the incident on Wikipedia.
For Keith Lucy of Delta County, remembering the nation’s Civil War and Colorado’s key role as a territory is a passion. Lucy recently walked from Delta to Montrose County in period dress to honor the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War.
“We sold more than 400 seats,” notes Lucy, who added that the Henry 30-30 Octagon Rifle awarded to a ticket holder at the Sesquicentennial was inspired by President Lincoln.
“Lincoln owned one, and shot it on the White House grounds—something that would be a big no-no today,” said Lucy, whose great-great Uncle was killed at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. A Civil War musket was also given away, and a drawing was held for the opportunity to fire an authentic Civil War Springfield Rifle, he said. Attendees also vied for chances to win a packet of Civil War era recipes, and a year’s subscription to Civil War News.
Putting on the event was quite a bit of work, but also fun, Lucy said.
“This was a commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War,” he said, noting that the event was a partnership between the Delta County Historical Society, Delta Museum and local schools.
“This is a historical celebration,” Lucy said. “We are showing a matinee of the movie ‘Copperhead,’ which is based on facts and is about people who opposed the Civil War and the pressure and turmoil that was caused. All of them believed the Bible supported their own position—this is a history lesson.”
Guest Historian Gary Parrott spoke, and many who attended the screening of the movie did so in period garb.
“Colorado was not a state at the time, but the Front Range certainly had both Northern and Southern sympathizers,” Lucy said. “When Colorado volunteers met the Confederates at Glorieta Pass they stopped Confederate access to the gold fields—it was an important engagement.
“There were Copperheads in Colorado too,” he said.
A self-professed Civil War buff, Lucy, 57, has toured battlefields and studied American and Colonial history. Though helping to put on the Sesquicentennial took plenty of effort, he said that he might consider doing it again in another 50 years.
“On October 26, I walked from Delta to Olathe in period dress,” he recalled. “A guy from KJCT8 TV followed me for a couple of miles. It really wasn’t so bad, although the last half-mile was pretty rough. Lots of people waved to me along the way, and when I got to Olathe I just sat down. Somebody gave me a drink of water.”
Lucy said that though State House District 58 Rep. Don Coram tried to interest the Colorado legislature in recognizing the 150th Anniversary of the War Between the States, “We never heard a peep,” he said.
And yet, “This is part of our history,” Lucy said. “We have a tendency to forget what happened in the past, but we do so at our own peril—we risk repeating our mistakes if we ignore what went on before.”
Honoring the past also builds connections to the present, and makes us stronger, he said, and added that the humanity of historical figures is key to our understanding of history.
“The movie, ‘Copperhead,’ is about non-resistance,” Lucy said. “That if you take a stand and believe you are right, you may take a hit.
“It’s a message that is as relevant today as it was during the Civil War—or the Revolutionary War, for that matter.”