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Civil War programs praised
Sesquicentennial boosts interest in, visitation to Virginia historic sites, brings economic benefits to localities across state, report says

Date published: 1/5/2013

BY CLINT SCHEMMER

The 150th anniversary of Fort Sumter, the Confederate attack that ignited the Civil War, seems just like yesterday.

But the war's sesquicentennial is already half over, a point headlined by a report Friday by a Virginia panel.

So far, the statewide commemoration of the nation's deadliest conflict has been a hit, strongly boosting visitation to Virginia and local sites from history-minded people, the state Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission reported to Gov. Bob McDonnell and the General Assembly.

"By any measure, it is clear that partners throughout the commonwealth have recognized and maximized the opportunities for education and preservation, and increased travel and tourism presented by the anniversary," House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford, said of the findings in the "Civil War Sesquicentennial in Virginia: Impact at the Halfway Mark" report.

Howell chairs the commission, which was the first in the nation to plan 150th anniversary events and programs, starting its work in 2006. Sen. Charles J. Colgan Sr., D-Manassas, is vice chair.

"On all fronts, the sesquicentennial in Virginia can be counted as a success," the commission reported. "As a recent Richmond Times-Dispatch article noted, 'the Civil War 150th has captured minds as well as tourists.'"

The commonwealth stands as "a national model" for sesquicentennial programs that analyze the war from multiple perspectives and encourage widespread participation in its local, state and national observances, the panel said. Events and programs eye the Civil War in Virginia from many viewpoints--battlefront and home front, soldier and civilian, free and enslaved.

Virginia is the only state with major anniversaries in every year of the 2011-2015 sesquicentennial, with sites and commemorative events across its length and breadth, the report notes.

The state's focus on the occasion is natural, given that more than 122 Civil War battles were fought on its soil, three times more than any other state.

The panel noted that Virginia has strong support from McDonnell and his administration, an inclusive approach and comprehensive initiatives and partnerships.

Absent a federal commission to plan the sesquicentennial, Virginia "leads the nation," it reported.

Civil War tourism in Virginia is strong and growing, the commission reported.

On Virginia.org, Civil War-related views have increased 96 percent since 2011. Views of information about the national battlefield parks that interpret Virginia's Civil War sites are up 181 percent, the panel said.

More than 100,000 people have downloaded the seven "battle apps" the Civil War Trust, with money from the state Department of Transportation, has created for smartphones and tablets. Three new apps are expected this year.

Last month, dozens of programs marking the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg drew nearly 10,000 participants, the report said. In Spotsylvania County, battle re-enactments in 2012 and 2011 lured more than 13,000 visitors.

Last but not least, the state has awarded more than $8 million in matching grants to save battlefield land through the Virginia Civil War Sites Preservation Fund. The effort has saved 4,700 acres valued at more than $30 million, a return on investment of nearly 4-to-1, the commission reported.

Report: bit.ly/vacw150halfway

Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029
Email: cschemmer@freelancestar.com