Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2009

Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission

June 16, 2009

Staff Reports

2010 Signature Conference: “Race, Slavery and the Civil War: The Tough Stuff of
American History”

Staff announced that Dr. James O. Horton has accepted the offer to chair the 2010 Signature Conference, and presented an initial proposal. A tentative title for the program is “Race, Slavery and the Civil War: The Tough Stuff of American History,” and the format would be morning and afternoon panel discussions. Dr. Horton is lining up top academic and public historians to participate, and a full proposal will be forthcoming. However, there is an incompatibility between Dr.
Horton's availability and Hampton University's open dates for the conference. Due to an ongoing commitment to teach at the University of Hawaii each spring semester, Dr. Horton is available only in the summer or fall months. Representatives of Hampton University have, however, affirmed on several occasions that the university can only host the conference during the week of April 14, and suggested that another chairman be approached.

Dr. Levengood stated that Dr. Horton is well-respected, well-known, and will continue to uphold the high standard set by Dr. Ayers at the Commission’s first Signature Conference. He further stated that Dr. Horton is the perfect person to chair the conference and that the Executive Committee should do anything it can to secure his participation.

Speaker Howell recapped the discussion about the conflict by stating that (i) because Hampton University cannot host the conference in the summer or fall of 2010; (ii) because Dr. Horton is available only in the summer or fall; and (iii) because of Dr. Horton’s outstanding reputation and the fact that he has been highly recommended by members of the Commission and Advisory Council, the Commission should consider pursuing a different venue for the 2010 Signature Conference.

Delegate A. T. Howell made a motion, seconded by Senator Colgan, that the Commission approach Norfolk State University as the new host of the 2010 Signature Conference. The motion passed unanimously.

Postconference Summary - America on the Eve of the Civil War
Staff reviewed a postconference summary, as well as a highly complimentary article that Dr. David Blight wrote for the June 1 edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education, "The Civil War Sesquicentennial : the Goal Should be an Enlightening Commemoration.” Staff went over a table outlining the overwhelmingly positive comments and feedback the Commission has received regarding the conference. A two-volume DVD set of conference proceedings will be available for purchase within a month.

Schedule for Joint Meeting at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, June 25, 2009
Staff reviewed the schedule for the joint meeting with the West Virginia Commission to be held in Harpers Ferry, on June 25, 2009. The morning tours will include a signing ceremony related to a land transfer between the Civil War Preservation Trust and the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, as well as a demonstration of a student service project sponsored by The Journey Through Hallowed Ground.

Manassas 2011 Plans
The local sesquicentennial committees of Prince William-Manassas-Manassas Park have joined with a group of community leaders to develop plans for a commemorative event in July 2011, the 150th anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas. Senator Colgan, Delegate Lingamfelter, and staff will meet with the group and staff will keep the Commission informed of the plans.

Consideration of Applications to Affix Logo
In accordance with the procedure established by the Executive Committee, staff presented a list of applications to affix the Commission’s logo that have been pre-approved by staff. This list included (i) Chesterfield County Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee (brochures); (ii) Greater Fredericksburg Tourism Partnership (website); (iii) Winchester-Frederick County Sesquicentennial Committee (invitation to event and print materials); and (iv) Fairfax County Park Authority (newsletter). Senator Colgan moved that the pre-approved applications be given final approval by the Executive Committee. The motion was seconded by Delegate Howell and passed unanimously.

Senator Colgan moved that the following pending applications to affix logo be approved by the committee: (i) History Museum of Western Virginia (website and print materials); and (ii) Museum of the Confederacy (print materials and advertisements). The motion was seconded by Delegate Howell and passed unanimously.

Other Business

Pam Seay, VP of Advancement, Virginia Historical Society
Ms. Seay asked if the Commission would like for her to make preliminary contact with the Norfolk Foundation regarding possible funding of the 2010 conference given that the host venue will likely be in that area. The Executive Committee agreed and thanked Ms. Seay for her assistance.

June 16, 2009

The Commission held a joint meeting with its newly formed West Virginia counterpart on June 25 to mark the beginning of the national commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The daylong program was held at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park as part of a series of events planned for the 150th anniversary of John Brown's Raid.

Morning Program

Staff of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, led by Dennis Frye, Chief of Interpretation, Education, Cultural Resources and Partnerships, took members and guests on bus tours of John Brown's Fort. It was in this building, formerly known as the Armory, that John Brown and several of his followers barricaded themselves during the final hours of their ill-fated raid of October 16, 17, and 18, 1859. In 1909, on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of John Brown's Raid, the building was purchased and moved to the Storer College campus on Camp Hill in Harpers Ferry. Acquired by the National Park Service in 1960, the building was moved back to the Lower Town in 1968. Because the fort's original site was covered with a railroad embankment in 1894, the building now sits about 150 feet east of its original location. Plans are underway to return the fort to its historically accurate location.

Civil War Trails
Following the discussion of John Brown's Fort, members and guests were taken to Boliver Heights, where the first Civil War Trails sign in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park was unveiled. Civil War Trails is a six-state program, established in Virginia in 1994 that provides public access and interpretation to sites of historical significance, many of which would remain uninterpreted otherwise. Currently, 945 Civil War Trails sites are prominently marked with highway directional signage. Tourists can follow the trail throughout Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

Land Transfer Ceremony
The group then traveled to historic School House Ridge, where the national Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) announced the donation of 176 acres of core battlefield land to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. The property was the scene of intense fighting on September 15, 1862, during the three-day battle and siege of Harpers Ferry. CWPT purchased the land in 2002 as part of a larger parcel totaling 232 acres. Private donations of $411,000 were matched with federal and state grants to complete the $1.7 million total transaction. After acquiring the property, CWPT sold 56 acres to the National Park Service for $420,000 — the appraised fair market value for the land. CWPT maintained the remaining acreage, looking forward to a time when it could make a gift of the battlefield land to the federal government, which it did to mark the beginning of the Civil War sesquicentennial. Jim Lighthizer, CWPT President, noted that the donation is emblematic of the organization’s mission to see that preserved battlefield land becomes outdoor classrooms, available for the benefit of the American people.

Student Service Learning Project
As the last event of the morning program, Harpers Ferry Middle School hosted the group for the premiere of a program entitled “Of the Student, By the Student, For the Student,” created, developed, and sponsored by The Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership at the request of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), in conjunction with Harpers Ferry National Historical Park and Harpers Ferry Middle School. The program consists of six innovative vodcasts about John Brown written, filmed, and produced by students at the middle school, which are available for viewing at www.hallowedground.org. The student service-learning project serves as a model for other organizations to engage young people in history.

Afternoon program
The group convened at the Mather Training Center, on the historic site of Storer College, for a joint meeting of the Virginia-West Virginia Civil War Sesquicentennial Commissions.

Representatives of several groups presented overviews of plans in development for the sesquicentennial, and two multimedia projects were premiered. Dennis Frye, Chairman of the John Brown Quad-State Committee, discussed the full slate of activities planned leading up to, during, and after the October anniversary of John Brown's Raid. Events will include an academic symposium, special tours, dramatic and musical interpretations, lectures, and exhibitions.

Cate Magennis Wyatt, President of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground (JTHG) Partnership, described the mission and goals of the organization, and outlined plans for the sesquicentennial. The JTHG is a national heritage area that generally follows the Old Carolina Road (Rt. 15/231) from Monticello through Maryland to Gettysburg. Goals include:

  • Building a strong network of local, regional and national partners to develop a common vision for the conservation and enhancement of the scenic, historic, recreational, cultural, and natural characteristics of the region.
  • Developing an education outreach program to reach every student and teacher within the region as well as across the nation.
  • Creating a heritage tourism program that will provide economic development opportunities, through regional branding and cooperative marketing, in communities throughout the corridor.
  • Working in partnership with local, state and national officials to create a National Scenic Byway and a National Heritage Area to sustain and strengthen the economy, heritage and quality of life in this region.

Staff of the American Civil War Commission outlined the Commission's goals of diversity, inclusiveness, accessibility, and education. Virginia, which was the first state to create a Civil War sesquicentennial planning group, is recognized as a national leader in the commemoration and is serving as a model for other states as they begin developing similar programs. The Commission is committed to a balanced portrayal of the Civil War that includes Union, Confederate and African-American perspectives; presents stories from battlefront and home front; and examines the social and cultural legacies of the conflict, as well as the military and political. To that end, the Commission:

  • Has funded a major museum exhibition, "An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia," which will open at the Virginia Historical Society in February 2011 and travel thereafter in various formats;
  • Is conducting an annual Signature Conference series with the nation's finest historians discussing topics that address the coming of the war, the impact of race and slavery, military strategies, leadership and generalship, the effects on the home front, Civil War in a global context, and memory of the Civil War in American society; and
  • Is using technology to engage the public and make travel planning easy, through vodcasts, interactive maps, kiosks, and more.

A vodcast written by John Hennessy, Chief Historian of the Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania National Military Park, which portrays the pivotal role of Virginia in the Civil War, was premiered. The vodcast series will highlight major Civil War battles in Virginia and be available through the Commission's website.

Dr. James I. Robertson, Jr., Alumni Distinguished Professor, Virginia Tech and member of the Virginia Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, debuted excerpts from a DVD that is one of the Commission's signature projects, "Virginia in the Civil War: A Sesquicentennial Remembrance." The DVD was developed by Dr. Robertson and produced by Blue Ridge Public Television specifically for teachers to use in the classroom. It is divided into eight 20-minute segments that focus on the background of the war, military campaigns, the African-American experience, leading Virginia personalities, the common soldiers, home front activities (including medical care), and legacies of the war for all Americans. The DVD will be distributed free of charge to all public schools and major library systems in Virginia beginning in Fall 2009.

Panel Discussion
As the last event in the program, Dr. Peter Carmichael, Eberly Professor of Civil War Studies at West Virginia University, moderated a panel of distinguished historians who discussed "Opportunities of the Civil War Sesquicentennial: Understanding Our Past, Embracing Our Future." Panelists were Dr. Charles F. Bryan, Jr., President Emeritus, Virginia Historical Society; Jim Lighthizer, President, Civil War Preservation Trust; and Dr. Robert K. Sutton, Chief Historian, National Park Service. Each expert discussed the unparalleled opportunity that the sesquicentennial commemoration presents in terms of broadening knowledge of the Civil War, engaging new audiences, and land preservation. Several panelists contrasted the differences between the centennial and the sesquicentennial, citing how advances in historiography have evolved during the intervening 50 years and will yield a different commemoration. One key example is that slavery was rarely acknowledged as a cause of the Civil War during the centennial, while it will be a central focus of discussion during the sesquicentennial. The panel discussion can be viewed at the Commission's website: www.VirginiaCivilWar.org.

Next Meeting

The next meeting date will be posted on the Commission’s website and the General Assembly calendar as soon as information is available.

The Hon. William J. Howell

For information, contact:
Cheryl Jackson, Brenda Edwards, DLS Staff

Division of Legislative Services > Legislative Record > 2009