Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

McDonnell’s Office Silent on Civil War Month Proclamation

Posted in Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on April 1, 2011

Readers will recall that, last September 24, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell announced that beginning in April 2011, that state’s Confederate History Month will be replaced by Civil War in Virginia Month. Needless to say, he caught hell for it at the time, and months later there was still grumbling from the usual suspects. Here is what McDonnell said in September:

I was far less successful in capturing the full meaning of our history when, four months later, I issued a proclamation concerning Confederate History Month.  My major and unacceptable omission of slavery disappointed and hurt a lot of people, myself included. Young people make mistakes, and I suppose sometimes young administrations do as well.  Ours was an error of haste and not of heart.  And it is an error that will be fixed.

Next April our office will issue a “Civil War in Virginia” proclamation commemorating the beginning of the Civil War in our state.

This proclamation will encapsulate all of our history. It will remember all Virginians—free and enslaved; Union and Confederate. It will be written for all Virginians.

Well, it’s April 1, 2011. I called the Governor McDonnell’s office late Friday afternoon and the gentleman who answered the phone professed no knowledge one way or another whether such a proclamation would be forthcoming. He suggested I keep checking the website or sign up for e-mail notices to see when — and if — such a proclamation is made.

Update, April 6: The governor’s proclamation is out, and at first read, it hits just the right note:

Civil War History in Virginia Month

WHEREAS, the month of April is most closely associated with Virginia’s pivotal role in the American Civil War; it was in April 1861 that Virginia seceded from the Union following a lengthy, contentious and protracted debate within the Commonwealth, and it was in April 1865 that the War was essentially concluded with the South’s surrender at Appomattox. In the four years that fell between those momentous months, Richmond served as the capital of the Confederacy, and it was on Virginia soil that the vast majority of the Civil War’s battles were fought, in places like Manassas, Malvern Hill, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, New Market, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg, locations now forever linked with the indelible history of this perilous period; and

WHEREAS, the largest wartime population of African-American slaves was in Virginia, yet through their own acts of courage and resilience, as well as the actions of the United States army and federal government, they bequeathed to themselves and posterity a legacy of freedom; and

WHEREAS, slavery was an inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights, and the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War ended its evil stain on American democracy and set Virginia and America on a still-traveled road to bring to fruition the great promises of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, and ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to enjoy equally the blessings of liberty and prosperity; and

WHEREAS, the military leadership and tactics of Virginians like Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and Union General George Henry Thomas are still studied, analyzed and discussed today; the heroism of brave individuals like William Harvey Carney, who was born a slave in Norfolk, gained his freedom through the Underground Railroad, and received the Medal of Honor for his valor as a Union soldier at the battle of Fort Wagner, inspires us through the ages; and the Commonwealth is the final resting place of thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers; the many cemeteries in which they lie reminding us of the cost and pain of the War and telling the stories of those who fought; and

WHEREAS, following the War, Virginia began the difficult process of returning to a nation that was, in many ways, born within her borders; that transition was aided by the actions of leaders like General Robert E. Lee who set the strong personal example of reconciliation and grace crucial in helping the people of Virginia return peacefully to the Union, instructing Virginians to “….abandon all these local animosities and make your sons Americans.”; and former Dinwiddie County slave Elizabeth Keckley who returned to Virginia as a guest of President Lincoln and expressed forgiveness and conciliation stating: “Dear old Virginia! A birthplace is always dear, no matter under what circumstances you were born”; and

WHEREAS, the General Assembly of Virginia created the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission in 2006 “to prepare for and commemorate” the Commonwealth’s participation in the war; and

WHEREAS, from 2011-2015 a diverse and growing Commonwealth will host innumerable public events, lectures, re-enactments, seminars, and remembrances covering every aspect of the war, and no state is more closely connected to this pivotal period of American history, and therefore no state is better suited to host visitors seeking to learn about the Civil War, the Confederacy, slavery, emancipation and the full history of our United States, and for that reason Virginia encourages visitors from across the country and the world to visit the Commonwealth during this period,

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Robert F. McDonnell, Governor of Virginia, do hereby recognize April 2011 as CIVIL WAR HISTORY IN VIRGINIA MONTH, and urge all Virginians to participate in commemorations of the war’s 150th anniversary and reflect upon the lives of the courageous men and women of those difficult times by attending seminars and conferences, and by visiting battlefields, cemeteries, exhibitions, historical markers, libraries, museums and historical sites throughout the Commonwealth, and by taking part in a diversity of events and activities that highlight our shared history and heritage, as we strive to enact the vision laid out in the preamble to the United States Constitution of “a more perfect union.”

Good on Governor McDonnell. Let the fireworks begin — in every sense of the word.


Image: Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell addressing an audience at Norfolk State University on September 24, 2010, during which he announced that the state’s former observance of Confederate History Month would be replaced by Civil War in Virginia Month. Photo by Adrin Snider, Daily Press.

13 Responses

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  1. Mark said, on April 1, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    It’s a hard topic to get into politically in some areas.

    It’s only been 150 years. Give it another 150.

    • Andy Hall said, on April 1, 2011 at 6:04 pm

      It’s a pretty simple equation for me. He said he’d do it, in the most public way possible. We’ll see if he does.

  2. BorderRuffian said, on April 1, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    I wonder if they will remember slavery in the next July 4th celebration?…and 13 slave-owning colonies?

    What about an Indian massacre reenactment? A slave ship reenactment in Boston harbour? New York City? A slave auction in Philadelphia ca. 1776?

    Not likely.

    • Andy Hall said, on April 1, 2011 at 7:50 pm

      No idea about those things. As I said above, the equation here is dead simple. He said he was going to — he was not remotely ambiguous about his intentions — and now he’ll either follow through, or not.

    • Brooks D. Simpson said, on April 2, 2011 at 5:34 pm

      Well, BR, since you are into these sorts of reenactments, I wonder why you don’t ask about reenacting blowing up churches? That would seem to interest you as well. Are you the head of Bull Connor Days? Or is racism just a northern thing in your home state of Alabama?

      • Andy Hall said, on April 2, 2011 at 6:58 pm

        Gentlemen! You can’t fight in here, this is the War Room!

        Let’s all please dial it back a couple of notches.

      • Lyle Smith said, on April 3, 2011 at 10:54 am

        I actually think Border Ruffian has a point here. The South shouldn’t be the only place to focus on educating people about violent racism. Yeah, we could re-enact the Birmingham church bombing and lynchings, but then we could also re-enact 9/11 and my guess is that wouldn’t go down with some people too well either… it would probably be called “Islamophobia”. The South will always have to live with the stain of slavery and segregation probably, but it’s not like the rest of America doesn’t have its own shame. It can be wrong, I think, to spend too much time emphasizing certain events over others. It all needs to be remembered.

        If Nathan Bedford Forrest was a bad individual, we have to also remember how bad an individual Thomas Jefferson was… if that’s even the case with both men.

        … or Andrew Jackson, yep he stood up for the Federal government during the nullification crisis, but he also approached genocide and violated U.S. law during his Creek/Seminole Wars, not to mention his obliteration of the Negro Fort. What a horrible man… or not.

        • Andy Hall said, on April 3, 2011 at 12:56 pm

          There is another blog where discussions of Jackson always follow his name with the letters WAD, as in “Andrew Jackson: what a dick.” 😉

          I entirely agree that all communities have an obligation to publicly acknowledge and remember the ugly parts of their history as well as the noble ones. (Not just North and South, and not just relating the ACW and the institution of slavery.) It’s a very hard thing to do, though, because we all like to gravitate toward the things that affirm our desire to believe that our ancestors (literally or figuratively) were purely good people who wouldn’t have been party to awful things.

          • Lyle Smith said, on April 3, 2011 at 3:25 pm

            I’ll have to check that blog out. Which blog is that?

          • Lyle Smith said, on April 3, 2011 at 10:31 pm

            Ah, yeah I’m working my way through that book. It’s pretty good. I noticed TNC’s blog was going through the book, but I wasn’t up for keeping along unfortunately. My loss.

            • Andy Hall said, on April 3, 2011 at 10:57 pm

              I couldn’t keep up, either — too many bloggy distractions. 😉

  3. Mark said, on April 1, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    McDonnell wants to run for president — of all 50 states. And he might be a candidate in 2012, though its more likely 2016. He doesn’t want controversy.

    And as for politicians saying they will do something — then not -well, the line is pretty long. And usually, that’s a good thing.

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