Virginia Civil War 150
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Background: About the Commission

The Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission, the first of its kind in the nation, was created in 2006 (HB 1440, Acts c. 465). A legislative commission led by Speaker of the House of Delegates William J. Howell and Senate President pro tempore Charles J. Colgan, Sr., the Commission is charged with planning for and commemorating the 150th anniversary of Virginia's participation in the American Civil War. The commemoration began in 2009 with the anniversary of John Brown's Raid and runs through 2015.

In the absence of a federal sesquicentennial commission, Virginia leads the nation in the sesquicentennial commemoration by virtue of its strong state support, comprehensive initiatives and partnerships, and inclusive approach. The Commission works with other states' planning efforts to offer assistance and seek ways in which to work collaboratively.

Members of the Commission

Speaker of the House William J. Howell, Chairman
Senator Charles J. Colgan, Sr., Vice-Chairman
Delegate Michael T. Futrell
Delegate T. Scott Garrett
Delegate Johnny S. Joannou
Delegate Mark L. Keam
Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter
Delegate Thomas C. Wright, Jr.
Senator Janet D. Howell
Senator Mamie E. Locke
Senator Bryce E. Reeves
Senator Walter A. Stosch
Dr. Paul A. Levengood
Dr. James I. Robertson, Jr.
John P. Ackerly, III

The Commission is particularly proud to work in close partnership with the Virginia Historical Society, and with Dr. James I. "Bud" Robertson, Jr., the nationally acclaimed Civil War historian who heads the Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech. By way of background, Dr. Robertson was appointed by President Kennedy to take over as the Executive Director of the federal Centennial Commission in December 1961, bringing positive change to a commemoration that began poorly. Among the chief lessons learned from the shortfalls of centennial is to focus on education and create a wide variety of balanced programs.

The Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, was created to oversee fundraising initiatives, and the Commission works with a distinguished Advisory Council that has been instrumental in developing parameters to guide the commemoration. The Foundation Board of Trustees and members of the Advisory Council are drawn from the state's leading education, historic and tourism institutions including: historians; representatives from museums, battlefields, and the National Park Service; leaders in state and local government; and education experts.

The following goals guide Virginia's sesquicentennial commemoration:

Diversity: The commemoration will be inclusive of, and meaningful to, all Virginians, particularly:

  • Diverse racial and ethnic groups
  • New citizens and those who do not have a hereditary link to the American Civil War
  • Young people and those who do not understand the relevance of the American Civil War to today's population

Inclusiveness: The commemoration will seek to portray a balanced story of Virginia's participation in the American Civil War that includes stories from African-American, Union and Confederate perspectives; battlefront as well as home front; slavery and freedom; and the causes of the war and its enduring legacies.

Statewide Accessibility: The commemoration will be statewide, involving all localities and encompassing all Civil War-related institutions, museums, battlefields, parks and facilities.

Education: The commemoration period will have a strong education component, intended to ignite a renewed interest in Virginia's historical heritage. Opportunities will be captured to re-examine the lessons of the past and the legacies of the Civil War in an effort to understand how they have defined the present and continue to shape our future.

Permanence: The Commission intends the commemoration to have a long-lasting effect and legacy, continuing well past 2015.


Commemoration, not celebration

It is important to realize that this is a commemoration, not a celebration. There is no joy to be found in war, especially the Civil War, which caused the deaths of over 620,000 Americans, divided families, tore apart a nation, and left cities in ruin. At the same time, the sesquicentennial encompasses emancipation and freedom for four million enslaved people, which is something to celebrate. The issues are complex, but there is no better opportunity to examine the time, the people, the causes, and the legacies of the Civil War. The 150th anniversary of the Civil War and Emancipation allows us to discuss all aspects of the story: Union, Confederate and African-American; battlefront and home front; and the losses, gains, and legacies of the conflict that defined a nation.

Virginia Sesquicentennial Commemoration of the American Civil War
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