This April marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War’s first battle, at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. For the next four years, national park units across the country will host special events to commemorate the war that shaped America.
And no one on Earth is more excited about it than Bill Gwaltney.As assistant regional director for workforce enhancement for the Park Service’s Intermountain Region, Gwaltney’s the guy responsible for building relationships with new partners and diverse communities, helping parks recruit and retain Park Service staff, and diversifying the workforce in park sites from Montana to the Mexican border. In nearly 30 years with the Park Service, he’s done an impressive job of making those connections—and the Civil War plays a key part: “I can’t think of anyone in the United States who doesn’t have some connection to the American Civil War,” he says.
Gwaltney’s foray into wartime history didn’t truly begin until the late 1980s, when he was working at Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, D.C. It was around that time that he helped found Company “B” of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, a group of African-American Civil War re-enactors, interpreters, and amateur historians from the region.
Gwaltney also helped create “Old Stories, New Voices,” a multicultural youth camp sponsored in part by the Park Service. And in 2008, he began working with the staff at Fort Union National Monument in New Mexico to help form a living-history volunteer group to depict the thousands of Hispanic soldiers from New Mexico who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War.
This winter, National Parks’ associate editor Amy Leinbach Marquis talked with Gwaltney about the upcoming sesquicentennial and its relevance to Americans today.