Virginia-Tech historian James I. Robertson has been appointed to Virginia’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission. It will be interesting to analyze the make-up of the commission as additional appointments are made and its subsequent plans to bring the Civil War to the general public. As many of you know Robertson sat on the Civil War Centennial Commission back in the early 1960′s and has worked steadily to emerge as one of the more popular Civil War historians in the field.
Robertson is a well-known figure in the field of Civil War history. He appears regularly in Civil War programs on the Arts & Entertainment Network, the History Channel, and public radio and television and has written a number of books about the Civil War period that have garnered national acclaim and numerous awards. His book Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend is considered the definitive biography of the famous general and served as the basis for the portrayal of Jackson in the movie “Gods and Generals.”
While I am pleased with Robertson’s appointment I do have some concerns. I’ve read his biography of Stonewall Jackson and admire it a great deal for its scholarship. At the same time I worry about his involvement in Lost Cause-tainted movies such as "Gods and Generals." I still do not understand his strong support for the movie apart from the emphasis on Jackson and the director’s reliance on Robertson’s biography. For anyone with a minimal amount of understanding of recent Civil War historiography that movie was a major step backward.
I want to see a wide-range of appointments that will reflect the latest in scholarship without losing sight of the need to attract wide audiences. I remain hopeful and just a little concerned.