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Veterans of the Civil War framed the memory of the war in American culture and its legacy, playing a pivotal role in the establishment of Civil War artifacts collections and museums in Pennsylvania—many of which are still in tact today—as well as veterans associations.
Donning the familiar blue and gray uniforms and transported back in time 150 years, Civil War re-enactors today offer a glimpse at the battles that shaped our nation’s future. More than 50,000 Americans gather at Civil War battlefields to recreate the experiences of the action on the front lines of the war. And as they replay the sequence of military engagement, they also offer insight into the legacy of that era, a fascinating aspect of the war that is still being discovered to this day. Civil War heritage continues to influence American culture today as is evidenced by museums, Civil War Roundtables, publication of books on the era and symbols of the Confederacy that have entered popular culture.
The persistence of the Civil War as a part of American heritage and culture is in part owed to the impact the war had on society at the time. Approximately 338,000 Pennsylvanians fought and 33,000 died in the Civil War, second only to New York. As the second most populous state, the Commonwealth’s population was nearly 3 million in 1860 and more than half of all eligible men served in the war. A war of such magnitude fought today would involve 34 million Americans and witness the deaths of more than 3 million. No war since the Civil War has taken such a heavy toll on American lives.
The heritage of the Civil War lives on today in the museums, historic sites and veterans associations still in existence.