The Resource Agency history of the Virginia Civil War Commission
- Agency history of the Virginia Civil War Commission
- Biographical or historical data
- The Virginia Civil War Centennial Commission was created on March 29, 1958 by an act passed by the General Assembly. The Commission was composed of seventeen members, with eight members appointed by the Speaker of the House of Delegates, four members appointed by the President of the Senate, and five members appointed by the Governor. Five of the commission members were named to form an executive committee. The Commission establised an advisory council of interested and knowledgeable people and employed an executive director to lead the Commission. James J. Geary, a former reporter for the Associated Press, was appointed as the executive director of the Virginia Civil War Commission and commenced working in November 1958.
- The Civil War Commission was responsible for developing and coordinating along with state and local agencies, a "four-year anniversary" commemorating the centennial of the American Civil War. The Commission also promoted education concerning the Civil War in Virginia, as well as encouraged travel and tourism in the state. The Commission was granted broad powers, with proper consent, to lease or purchase property necessary for the commemoration, to enter into contracts, to adopt an official flag and seal, and to accept donations.
- The Commission pursued two outreach programs, one focused on events of statewide signficance and another focused on community "grass roots" activities. The purpose of both programs was to honor Virginia's war heroes and encourage Civil War-related tourism. The first major event planned by the Commission were the opening day ceremonies which took place in Richmond on 23 April 1961, the anniversary of the day Robert E. Lee accepted command of Virginia's armed forces. Throughout its four year existence, the Commission worked with the State Highway Commission to develop a map of historical markers, sponsored statewide assemblies of local centennial committees, held a commemorative ceremony marking Virginia's involvement in the Peace Convention of 1861, assisted with the reenactment of the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run), rededicated the statue of Lee at Gettysburg, and promoted the "Circle Tour" of Shenandoah Valley battle sites. The capstone event for the Commission was the observance of Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House on 9 April 1965, an event that drew more than 10,000 spectators. A multitude of other activities and events not listed here were also sponsored, coordinated or supported by the Civil War Commission.
- The Commission also devoted time and resources to creating and publishing a variety of books and booklets related to Virginia's involvement in the Civil War. The most well-known of these publications are Virginia, 1861-1865: Iron Gate to the Confederacy, A Guide to Military Operations in Virginia, 1861-1865, A Register of Military Events in Virginia, 1861-1865, Monuments to Memories: Virginia's Civil War Heritage in Bronze and Stone, and The Wartime Papers of Robert E. Lee. The Commission also produced several films about the Civil War, including Manassass to Appomattox, Another Cheer for Dixie, The Character of Lee, and Stonewall Jackson's Way.
- A major achievement of the Commission was the construction of the Centennial Center, located on the Medical College of Virginia (MCV) campus in downtown Richmond. In 1960, the General Assembly approved a $1.3 million budget for construction of the Centennial Center and its exhibits. The building was designed by Walter Dorwin Teague to be very modern and much different from most of the architecture in Richmond. The center opened on 1 October 1961 and closed on 30 November 1965. After the centennial period ended, the center's exhibits were moved to the New Market Battlefield State Historical Park and ownership of the building reverted to MCV. The center was also referred to as the "Centennial Dome," and was later renamed the Jonah L. Larrick Student Center. MCV closed the building in late 2007 and it was demolished in May 2008. The Civil War Commission ceased to exist after 31 December 1965 and submitted its final report to the Governor in January 1966.
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