Virginia Center for Civil War Studies
Virginia Center for Civil War Studies - Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Considering Virginia's integral role in every aspect of the Civil War, the ongoing effects of that conflict yet today, and the unfaltering interest in this period throughout the nation, several people—most notably Virginia Tech Board of Visitors member Donald Huffman—recognized the need to establish a formal entity for studying and sharing knowledge about this period of American history. Huffman also believed that the university should take advantage of its nationally noted Civil War historian, author, and Alumni Distinguished Professor of History James I. Robertson Jr., as well as the impressive Civil War collection of books, manuscripts, and memorabilia housed in University Libraries' Special Collections.

Subsequently, in March 1999, Charles W. Steger, then vice president for development and university relations, announced that the university would found the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies with Robertson as its director.

Steger, now president of the university, also announced the kickoff to a $3 million campaign to fund the programs and other academic pursuits of the center, which maintains a formal link to the Department of History in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

As the center's work rapidly grew, the university hired during the summer of 2000 another noted Civil War historian and author, William C. Davis, as director of programs. Robertson became executive director of the center.

With a chief goal of educating the young, the projects of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies concentrate on the actions that led to the war, on the factors that help explain it and its aftermath, and on the people who suffered through it. The center provides an ideal setting to shed new light on the war—not merely on the political and military aspects, but also on the more subtle social, cultural, and human implications of this pivotal episode in United States history.

Announcement of Virginia Center for Civil War Studies
March 12, 1999
It's a pleasure for me to join with so many people who are keenly interested in learning more about the Civil War.

Although the war ended 134 years ago, it still holds us in its spell, partly because many of us had at least one ancestor who fought for the North or the South. Some of these men led troops in battle. Others—most in fact—fought as citizen-soldiers. But they all had one thing in common: They put their lives on the line for their beliefs and found those lives materially, and often dramatically, changed as a result.

For example, where is Mary Kent Elliott in the audience? Mary Kent's great grandfather, Dr. Harvey Black, helped operate on Stonewall Jackson when the great war strategist's own men accidentally wounded the general. After the war, Dr. Black played a key role in establishing the school we know today as Virginia Tech.

Don Huffman, where are you sitting? Don had two great uncles, Philip and James Huffman, who fought with the Stonewall Brigade. That unit saw such heavy action and endured so many casualties that after the battle in Spotsylvania, it ceased to exist as a unit. The surviving men were combined with bits and pieces of other tattered regiments after May 12, 1864.

Where is Dr. David Minichan? Dr. Minichan's great grandfather, Abraham Hogan, fought under Jubal Earley and was captured in Waynesboro. After incarceration in the federal prisoner of war camp at Point Lookout, Maryland, he made his way back home to Floyd County, where he farmed and became a Methodist preacher. One side note here: In the 1850s, Hogan was a student at the Olin and Preston Institute, the boy's school here in Blacksburg that eventually became Virginia Tech.

Dorothy Bodell, where are you sitting? Dorothy's great-grandfather, John Burrrell King, accepted a $50 bounty from a wealthy Christiansburg man to fight in his place. Following the war, young King, who had first gone into battle at the age of 16, used that $50 to purchase land for a farm in nearby Riner.

Where is Eddie Wheeler? Eddie's great-grandfather, Vincent Wheeler, was a teenager who fought with the 51st Virginia Volunteer Infantry and saw action at Spotsylvania Courthouse. After the war he became a Methodist minister.

My own great-grandfather, John Wesley Steger, was wounded at Gaines Mill while trying to save a comrade. Although he lost a leg as the result of that wound, he returned to farming after the war. When I visit the family cemetery where he is buried, I often wonder about the daily challenges he faced as a result of that battle wound.

Certainly, the Civil War dramatically altered the lives of each of our ancestors from that period—those who went to war as well as those who stayed at home. Even today, the lives of each of us here are vastly different because of that conflict.

The Civil War gave birth to the United States as we know it today. It gave us a number of customs, Santa Claus for one. And it gave us standard time, the Medal of Honor, the early movement of women into the fields of teaching and nursing, a national motto, an internal revenue service, and one of our nation's most inspiring speeches: the Gettysburg Address.

The Civil War also turned the Old Dominion into a major battlefield, with more than 60 percent of the fighting occurring on our soil. No other region of the Western Hemisphere has ever faced the degree of devastation experienced by Virginia between 1861 and 1865.

But the commonwealth was more than a major battleground. Virginia produced major war leaders such as Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jeb Stuart, and A.P. Hill, whose military tactics are still studied by the academies. Richmond and, later, Danville served as capitals of the Confederacy. Virginia supplied salt, ammunition, and other resources vital to the Confederate war effort.

Considering Virginia's integral role in every aspect of the Civil War, considering the impact of that conflict on us yet today, and considering the unfaltering interest in this period by people such as yourselves, several people recognized the need to establish a formal entity for studying and sharing knowledge about this most memorable period of American history.

What better place to do that than at Virginia Tech, where we can boast of having a leading Civil War historian on our faculty, where we have one of the nation's top collections of Civil War books and manuscripts, and where we have already established the reputation as a leader in Civil War studies and programs.

So it gives me great pleasure to announce that Virginia Tech is initiating a $3 million campaign to raise the funds necessary to create and support the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies. And I am also pleased to announce that Bud Robertson has agreed to serve as the Center's first director. I might add that Bud specifically requested that the announcement about the center and the campaign be made here to this group.

The Center will operate in partnership with the history department in the College of Arts and Sciences.

It will attract nationally recognized Civil War scholars through a scholars-in-residence program.

It will organize at least two annual symposia: one for an academic audience and one for Civil War enthusiasts.

It will sponsor lectures and exhibitions, provide additional radio and television shows, and publish a scholarly Civil War journal.

It will add new books, manuscripts, and memorabilia to the library's already impressive Civil War collection and will fund an archivist to preserve and maintain the collection.

It will use Virginia Tech's expertise in information technologies to offer educational opportunities through digital and distance-learning programs.

And it will provide graduate scholarships to entice the best graduate students and prepare them to become leading Civil War authorities, researchers, and teachers.

The fundraising effort will be headed by Thim Corvin from our development office. Where are you, Thim? At the conclusion of Bud's keynote address, I hope you will introduce yourselves to Thim. He will be joining you throughout the weekend and will be happy to answer any questions you might have. Thim has brought with him copies of the case statement, which will be distributed at the door as you leave tonight.

Thim and I both look forward to your support in helping Virginia Tech establish the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies.

In conclusion, I leave you with these words from the famous Civil War historian in our midst. Bud concluded one of his television programs with these words, which I think are quite appropriate as we engage in this important endeavor:

"No other part of America possesses the magnitude and the significance of the Civil War as the birthplace of the United States as our Virginia. ... We have a rich abundance of opportunities to explore those jewels of history that stand at our doorstep. They can humble us and they can teach us. And by reminding us of past sacrifices, they can inspire us to future successes."

Thank you.

Department of History
431 Major Williams Hall
Blacksburg, VA 24061
Virginia Tech