A Civil War Centennial Education

Over the past few days I’ve been rummaging through research files that cover the history of the Crater during the 1950s and 60s.  Thankfully, I’ve been making steady progress on my manuscript revisions.  I am playing around with an opening to this post-WWII chapter that tries to imagine what a family would have seen and read between the visitors center and wayside markers at the Petersburg battlefield.  Perhaps I will share it with you to get some feedback.  Anyway, here are some notes I took while looking at a collection of Civil War Centennial pamphlets.

UVA: Civil War Centennial Information: “Virginia’s Opportunity: The Civil War Centennial, 1961-1965” [published by the Virginia Civil War Commission, Richmond, Va, 1960]  Manual was prepared for Civil War centennial committees and teachers “who are trying to interpret the meaning of this momentous era to the youth of Virginia.”

“But the Centennial is no time for finding fault or placing blame or fighting the issues all over again.  Americans from every section produced the divisions which led to war.  These divisions grew out of hate, greed and fear, ignorance and apathy, selfishness and emotionalism—evils from which this generation is not free.”  “This is the time to recognize these divisive forces; but this is also the time to honor dedication and devotion, courage and honor, integrity and faith—qualities plentifully demonstrated in the War of 1861 to 1865—and needed for our survival in the years to come.” (from the Foreward)

Opening day, Sunday, January 8, 1961

Va’s opening day: April 23, 1961 on the day that R.E. Lee accepted command of Virginia armed forces.

“The chief purpose of the Centennial is to strengthen the unity of the country through mutual understanding—an understanding derived from the realization that there was dedication and devotion on both sides.  North and South, there were those who gave all they had in support of what they sincerely believed was right.”  “In the Centennial the spotlight will be on character in men—for was is the ultimate test of character.  The stories of the Civil War are full of lessons for present-day living.  By these examples we can teach children and adults the moral values so needed in America today. (p.8)

Section title: “See That The Historical Events That Happened In Your Locality Are Properly Explained” (p. 19)

The Centennial Program In Schools (chapter)

  1. The importance, the fascination and the drama of history.

The students do not want a dry-bones recital of the dates and events.  They want to know the human story of the war.  They want to feel what the soldier on the battlefield experienced.  They want to know why people acted the way they did; what choices they had.  Our goal is the present history as exciting, moving and relevant.

  1. Heroes and Patriotism. There is an opportunity in the Centennial for our young people to learn the respect for patriotism and great men which used to be such a large part of the fabric of American life.  To do this we must make our heroes understandable and present their lives and principles in present day terms.  Lee’s words should have as much meaning to Virginians today as they did in reconstruction times.  “You can work for Virginia, to build her up again, to make her great again.  You can teach your children to love and cherish her. (p. 21)
  2. Understanding. The student can be led to see that dissensions between people are caused by ordinary human emotions and desires, by selfishness, hate and pride, that the divisions that led to this awful war were created by people in all parts of the country and that the diseases of mistrust, hatred and war can be cured only by uniting behind a bigger idea or a bigger goal than the ones that divide us. (pp. 21-22)

“Report of the Activities of City and County Civil War Centennial Committees in Virginia, 1961-1965” [published by the Virginia Civil War Commission, 1966]

Chairman of the Petersburg Committee: Richard T. Wilson, III

Activities included: (1) Staged opening ceremony for Centennial with parade and rededication program; (2) Camera Club contest designed to provide slides for local committee; (3) Cooperated with National Park Service in n100th anniversary of Battle of Crater (p. 10)

“Report of the Preliminary Plans of the Virginia Civil War Commission to the General Assembly” [First Report to the General Assembly, published by the Virginia Civil War Commission, 1959]

Chairman: Charles T. Moses

Purposes of the CWC in Virginia: “To stimulate interest in this period and to encourage further study of the Civil War, believing that honest research will heal old wounds rather than reopen them.” (p. 2)

“The Civil War Centennial is a commemorative effort of great magnitude than any ever before undertaken by the Commonwealth of Virginia.  The Virginia Civil War Commission’s plans are designed to interpret and explain this cataclysmic period of history to our own people and those who visit us and to call attention to the heroism, the idealism and the devotion to principle displayed during the War.  The Commission hopes that a theme of moral and spiritual regeneration will run through all of its activities.  Virginia has an opportunity to attract millions of out-of-state visitors through an exciting Centennial program.  But Virginia has an even greater opportunity to inspire these people to be as dedicated to great ideals in a time of peace as our forbears were in a time of war.  This is the time for Virginia to emphasize the victory of character won by Lee and others in rising above the horrors of war and the shame of defeat.” Charles T. Moses (p. 21)

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

4 comments… add one
  • heidi Jan 14, 2010 @ 3:12

    I find it very peculiar that as a nation we still, with great anxiety, wish to acknowledge no more of the Civil War than the reconciliation of a nation. After 250 years with many different schools of interpretation, that formed post-war, reconcilitaion has become by far one of the most prominent themes, ushering aside the emancipation of slaves — which raises the question what was more important after the war…the reconcilitaion of a nation or the reconcilitaion of peoples in a nation? People are familiar with the former and the latter is still a debate today, so why not emphasize the latter or both as themes with equal focus that after the Civil War, the United States had to rebuild – as a nation and as a people.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 14, 2010 @ 10:27

      Fortunately, we are already seeing a broader narrative emerge as we approach the Civil War Sesquicentennial. Thanks for the comment.

      • margaretdblough Jan 14, 2010 @ 11:54


        On the other hand “the War of 1861-1865” is one of the best euphemisms that I've seen. I like it much better than the War Between the States.

  • msimons Jan 13, 2010 @ 15:57

    This would be an excellant starting point but not a end result.

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