Virginia’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Arrives in the Classroom

From the beginning of its formation, one of the central goals for the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission has been educational outreach.  It is doing this in a number of ways from organizing conferences to creating mobile exhibits that will travel throughout the state between 2011 and 2015.  Included in this is the creation of educational materials suitable for use in k-12 classrooms.  This fall Virginia PBS stations will air “Virginia in the Civil War”. This was a joint project between the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission and Virginia Tech’s Center for Civil War Studies. The documentary is three hours in length and will be broken down into nine 20 minute segments.  I couldn’t be more pleased with the commission’s focus on educational materials and this documentary, which will be made available to every public and private school in the state, will surely come in handy.

That said, I am just a little disappointed with this 13-minute preview.  In one sense it is very predictable in terms of the narrative as well as the themes that are addressed.  I am sure that the producers of this film wanted something that would be appropriate across a number of grade levels, but the level of analysis by the talking heads and narrator is flat and uninteresting.  The segments on soldier life are right out of Bell Wiley’s The Life of Johnny Reb.  Don’t get me wrong, I love that book, but we know so much more about the life of the common soldier.  Where is the discussion about motivation, slavery, nationalism, etc?  There doesn’t seem to be much of anything about the home front in Virginia.  There is nothing on emancipation in Virginia nor do we learn anything about Virginia’s Unionists.  Perhaps these comments are premature since I have not seen the full documentary, but I just don’t get the sense that this film pushes us to think hard about Virginia’s Civil War in any way and that is unfortunate.  Decide for yourself.

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Kevin,

At least your commission is doing SOMETHING. Here in Ohio, the governor announced a commission four or five months ago, but none of the members have been announced, and NOTHING has been done. Be glad your commission is actually doing something productive.

Eric

Of course I appreciate it and I am confident that this documentary will help quite a number of teachers do their jobs better. This is just my little critique.

Kevin-I made it about halfway through. In the first place, while I recognize the source, nevertheless the video reminded me of that great chapter title, “How Virginia Won the Civil War” from Thomas L. Connelly and Barbara L. Bellows' collection of essays, “God and General Longstreet: The Lost Cause and the Southern Mind.” Then there was the image of slavery as the dark cloud looming as if white Virginians were somehow as much the victims of this curse as the slaves. I noted that they managed to completely avoid the subject of Nat Turner. I thought the most offensive was Robertson's reference to Lee going with the Confederacy because his “native country, Virginia” did. Lee's native country was the United States of America, which his late father and, especially, his step-grandfather-in-law had done so much to establish. He turned his back on that country which had given him an education and a career after his father and older half-brother had squandered the family fortune and whose constitution he had taken an oath to uphold and defend. Virginia was his native state, and he gave his loyalty to that. They really lost me when they managed to get as far into the war as the Valley campaign without bothering to mention the small matter of the refusal of the northwest counties of Virginia to join in secession and their formation first of a provisional loyal state government and later the state of West Virginia as well as the fact that the Confederate government's unsuccessful military effort, under Lee, to regain control of those counties.

Like you, I hope the overall documentary shows more depth and nuance. We'll see.

In addition, there is the problem of the portrayal of the love fest at Appomattox. As far as I can tell there is nothing on Reconstruction. Like I said, I understand that there is a need to create a documentary that can be used on a number of different grade levels, but there seems to be a discrepancy given the level of discourse that has and will take place at various conferences over the next few years.

“love fest at Appomattox”?!?!? You have a gift for understatement. That's a very tactful description of that load of Redemptionist twaddle that Bud Robertson spewed at the end. The whole film makes the Civil War experience sound to kids like a really fun sleep away camp except for a touch of homesickness, the lousy food and water, and a mysterious photo of a one-armed soldier that appears in the midst of the description of neat scars as red badges of courage. Except for the appearance of US Grant doing an imitation of Glinda the Good Witch appearing at the end of the Wizard of Oz (except that unlike Lee, of course, Grant was not immaculately dressed), it appears that Virginia fought the entire Civil War by itself without anyone else Union or Confederate appearing.

I'm not sure this is an issue of inside v. outside the “Ivory Halls of Academia”. Remember the film is intended to be focused specifically on Virginia, but I never characterized it as “Lost Cause” or “Neo-Confederate”. I simply said that I wanted a bit depth and breadth re: certain issues.

Sorry I misunderstood your orginal posting. I have gotten accustomed to you labeling anything you don't like as NC or LC.

No problem, but I think that's a bit of an exaggeration. I can't remember the last time I referred to something as neo-Confederate. My reference to the Lost Cause is meant to draw a connection with a particular historical memory and is usually not meant as derogatory.

I try to avoid the use of the term neo-Confederate. It's too emotional and too ill-defined. Lost Cause, on the other hand, is a very well-defined revisionist interpretation of the Civil War initially led by former high-ranking confederates and subject of multiple scholarly studies. I believe the groundbreaking study in this was Thomas Connelly's “The Marble Man” about the shaping of Robert E. Lee's image after his death.

I hope to be able to see the full final product. I hope it is more nuanced than the promotional video. However, the video's principle flaw appears to be a pronounced case of Virginia-centrism, a mentality that has long irritated even its fellow southern states (please, do not get any North Carolinian started on the subject of Virginia and Pickett's Charge<g>)

But Bud Robertson IS inside the halls of academia, and he was the driving force behind this video!

I went to the commission meeting on Mon. It was encouraging to see that the Committee Chairman is the speaker of the house of delegates, and he is very involved.

For HS students you would be blessed if we all showed them David Blights Yale Lecture series.

IMO the best series of lectures on the war I have ever seen.

Sorry for not picking up the sarcasm. It's been a long week. I agree that the Blight lectures are first rate, but I don't think I would subject my students to it. Glad you found them worthwhile.

I went to the commission meeting on Mon. It was encouraging to see that the Committee Chairman is the speaker of the house of delegates, and he is very involved.

But Bud Robertson IS inside the halls of academia, and he was the driving force behind this video!

For HS students you would be blessed if we all showed them David Blights Yale Lecture series.

IMO the best series of lectures on the war I have ever seen.

Sorry for not picking up the sarcasm. It's been a long week. I agree that the Blight lectures are first rate, but I don't think I would subject my students to it. Glad you found them worthwhile.

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