Va. seeks balance in marking Civil War's 150th anniversary, tapping Kennedy-era historian





When Virginia and the rest of the nation set out to mark the 100th anniversary of the Civil War in 1961, the party got off to a rocky start.

Intricate plans were made to mark the military conquests of the Confederate and Union armies, but little attention was paid to the experience of individuals -- soldiers, civilians and slaves.

A massive reenactment of the Battle of Bull Run at Manassas was marred by too little water and too few bathrooms. Most jarringly, some adopted the events as an opportunity to celebrate the Confederacy in the face of the burgeoning civil rights movement.

At last, President John F. Kennedy called on a 31-year-old historian to take over as the centennial's executive director, refocusing it on sober education.

Virginia has turned to the same man -- James I. Robertson Jr., a history professor at Virginia Tech and a Civil War expert -- to help the state avoid the same kinds of problems as it prepares to mark next year's 150th anniversary of the start of the war.

With Robertson's guidance, a commission established by the General Assembly to plan the state's sesquicentennial events has spent four years trying to avoid the impression that they will amount to a celebration of the Confederacy....

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