Columbia -- A low-key gathering at the S.C. Archives and History Center on Friday marked the 150th anniversary of the most important gathering in Columbia's history, the convention that drafted the state's Ordinance of Secession from the United States.

About four dozen people attended the grand-opening ceremony of a new exhibit at the center, titled "Confrontation to Conflict: South Carolina's Path to the Civil War."

That fateful path began Dec. 17, 1860, when about 170 state leaders met at First Baptist Church in Columbia to discuss leaving the union. The "Convention of the People" began at noon, and participants voted unanimously in favor of secession at 7 p.m.

That action led to the writing and signing of the Ordinance of Secession three days later in Charleston; the first shots of the Civil War at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861; a four-year war that left more than 620,000 dead; the economic devastation of the South; the emancipation of 4 million slaves; the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution; Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras; and the civil rights movement.

"Without the vote taken in Columbia on Dec. 17, none of these would have happened" in the time frame and the manner that they occurred, said Eric Emerson, director of the S.C. Department of Archives and History.

Emerson thinks the ordinance is the most important historical document owned by South Carolina.

The yellowed original is the centerpiece of the display at the archives center, with a special showcase highlighting the seal on the back that proves it is the original document.

Visitors to the center this weekend might have to settle for one of the 200 lithograph copies created for the original signers. The original document was scheduled to make an appearance in Greenville on Friday night and in Charleston on Monday before returning home Tuesday, Emerson said.

While the Ordinance of Secession is the star, other documents in the exhibit provide important context to the Civil War. There's the 1832 Ordinance of Nullification, which started the state down the secession road; a Nov. 9, 1860, legislative resolution noting the election of Abraham Lincoln and calling for the state "to dissolve her connection" with Washington; the seven-page Declaration of Immediate Causes, written by the Secession Convention on Dec. 24, 1860, to explain its reasons for seceding; and correspondence between S.C. officials and President James Buchanan about the movement of federal troops to Fort Sumter from Fort Moultrie on Dec. 26, 1860.

The grand-opening event Friday included no music, fireworks or protests. But those could be on the horizon Monday in Charleston, where a Seces

sion Gala is scheduled. Friday, leaders of the state's sesquicentennial commemoration effort gave a handful of short, straightforward speeches stressing the importance of documenting history and learning from it.

"As we reflect upon the momentous events of 150 years ago," said Michael Allen, a National Park Service ranger, "what we do here, this day, in this place, in this state will set a tone."

Allen hopes, at the end of the four-year commemoration, people will see "how far we have traveled in 150 years."

Civil War stories

If you have stories of your ancestors during the Civil War and you would like to share them with other readers, send them to newstips@postandcourier.com.

These stories will become part of our ongoing coverage of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Be sure to include your contact information.

Are you a Civil War re-enactor?

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Documents

A new exhibit of important documents officially opened Friday.

When: Monday-Fridays 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. (closed for state holidays).

What: "Confrontation to Conflict: South Carolina's Path to the Civil War."

Where: S.C. Archives and History Center, 8301 Parklane Road, Columbia.

Cost: Free, but the archives gift shop will available for purchases.

Secession Day

Monday

9 a.m.: The original Ordinance of Secession will be on display at the Charleston Museum, 360 Meeting St., all day until 5 p.m.

10 a.m.: The S.C. Historical Society begins free hourly tours of its exhibit, "Voices of Secession," at 100 Meeting St. The last tour begins at 3 p.m.

10 a.m.: The Confederate Museum at Market Hall will observe the anniversary 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Men and women in period attire will greet visitors with copies of the Charleston Mercury's famous "Union is Dissolved!" special edition. The museum will highlight its collection of secession artifacts, including two of the pens used to sign the Ordinance of Secession, stage decorations from the ceremony and a lithograph of the ordinance owned by one of the signers. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children.

11 a.m.: Mayor Joe Riley and others unveil a new South Carolina historical marker at 134 Meeting St., where the Ordinance of Secession was signed on Dec. 20, 1860.

6 p.m.: The Secession Gala begins at the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium with a reception. The original Ordinance of Secession will be on display. A 45-minute theatrical play starts at 7:15 p.m. and will be followed by dinner and dancing. The NAACP plans a protest outside.