Clarke County Prepares for Civil War Sesquicentennial

As Clarke County and the Commonwealth of Virginia honor the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, the Clarke County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution on Monday pledging support of the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission and its local activities here in Clarke. Commission resources may help local citizens preserve memorabilia and documents related to Clarke County’s rich Civil War legacy.

North - South Skirmish Association fires canon salute to fallen Civil War veterans buried in Mt Carmel Cemetery - Photo Edward Leonard

The Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission was created in 2006 by Virginia’s General Assembly to prepare for and commemorate the 150rh anniversary of Virginia’s participation in the American Civil War. The organizing chairman of Clarke’s Sesquicentennial Committee, pending formal elections by the Committee, is Robert Stieg, chief executive officer of the Clermont Charitable Trust.

Civil War commemoration activities are planned to run from 2011 through 2015. Much of Clarke County’s participation will be coordinated with the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District. Clarke County is one of the eight constituent counties in the district determined by Congress to promote and commemorate this important historic milestone.

“The General Assembly has asked Virginia counties to participate in the Sesquicentennial” Stieg told the Supervisors. “I volunteered to get something going.” Steig will be assisted by other community voluteers including Adeela Al-Khalili, Charles Johnston, Maral Kalbian, Jennifer Lee, Howard Means, Michael Murphy, Jesse Russell, and John Sours.

Civil War hostilities began on April 12, 1861, when  Confederate forces attacked a U.S. military installation  at  Fort Sumter  in  South Carolina. President Abraham Lincoln responded by calling for a volunteer army from each state to recapture federal property. Lincoln’s action led to declarations of secession by four more slave states. Both sides raised armies as the Union assumed control of the border states early in the war and established a  naval blockade.

While the Sesquicentennial activities will focus on the complex history and human drama that the conflict engendered, it will also provide an opportunity to generate revenue from the strong interest in the Civil War that exists today.

“Virginia is one of the two leading states promoting Civil War Sesquicentennial tourism” Steig said. Pennsylvania, home of the Gettysburg battle which many historians cite as the turning point of the Civil War, leads promotional tourism spending. Endorsement by the Supervisors means that Clarke County can now receive grant money and other support associated with the Sesquicentennial which, according to Stieg , can take a number of forms.

“For example, we may be able to request that the Virginia State Library send a bus filled with digitization equipment to Clarke County for a couple of days so that citizens can have their Civil War artifacts digitized here locally” Stieg said. “There’s a lot of material here is Clarke County, like papers, photographs and diaries, that families have. Scanning the materials will allow them to be included in the State Archives so that researchers and others interested in the conflict can also have access.” Stieg added that scanning will also help to preserve an enriched record of this local history for future citizens of the county.

Stieg said that he was also dedicated to ensuring that Clarke County’s Civil War Sesquicentennial committee reaches out to all citizens and acknowledged the diversity of local historic positions concerning the War, the “home front” struggles during wartime, and the legacies of the War for Clarke County’s people.

“Virginia’s Civil War Centennial anniversary was a scandal” Stieg said. “No African Americans were involved.”

Stieg said that there are many important Civil War sites in Clarke County with the most significant being Holy Cross Abbey, the site of the two-day Cool Springs battle which resulted in nearly 5000 casualties. The Clarke County Sesquicentennial committee hopes to improve historic markers and other documentation about Clarke County’s Civil War sites.

The resolution supporting the 150rh Committee was unanimously passed by the Board of Supervisors with Supervisor Pete Dunning (White Post) was not present. In approving the resolution Supervisor Chairman Michael Hobert (Berryville) said “We would like to cooperate to the extent that we can without expending funds” reflecting the county’s ongoing commitment to fiscal austerity.

The Clarke County Sesquicentennial committee will include one member appointed by, the Clarke County Board of Supervisors, one member of or appointed by the Clarke County Historic Preservation Commission, one member of or appointed by the Clarke County Historical Association, one member of or appointed by the Clarke County African-American Cultural Center / Josephine Community Museum. The committee will also include a representative of the administration of the Clarke County Public Schools and one member representing the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation.

Other members, representative of the diversity of the community, shall be recruited by the Committee.