Down the long spiral of violence America fell.

The other. The enemy. The traitor. Americans drew lines of acceptance and lines of battle.

Ultimately, the war ended. The 13th Amendment abolished the heinous act of slavery. But numerous moments in the 156 years since the Civil War demonstrate how deeply divided the nation remains on matters of human rights and social justice.

“When one group of people sees the other as the enemy, it’s hard to break from that cycle. This was true in the 1850s, and I believe it’s true today,” said Paul Quigley, the James I. Robertson, Jr. Associate Professor of Civil War History at Virginia Tech.

If progress is not a straight line but a winding road, history can provide the roadmap.

Amid a trying time in the United States, renowned historians will provide insights into the deadliest conflict on American soil as part of the 2021 Civil War Weekend at Virginia Tech.

For the first time in the 30-year history of Civil War Weekend, attendees can participate in this celebrated gathering from anywhere — at no cost.

“The COVID-19 pandemic foiled our original plans for marking the 30th anniversary of Virginia Tech’s Civil War Weekend,” said Quigley, who also serves as the director of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies. “But we are making the best of a tough situation and are thrilled to open this annual event to an even broader audience.”

Paul Quigley
Paul Quigley, the James I. Robertson Jr. Associate Professor of Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech, is the principal director of the National Endowment for the Humanities planning grant. Photo by Mindy Quigley.

Historians, history buffs, and anyone else interested in learning about the Civil War will meet via Zoom on three consecutive Thursdays: March 4, 11, and 18. Each gathering will occur from 7 to 8:30 p.m. EST. Attendees will have ample opportunities to ask questions, a staple of Civil War Weekend.

The theme of the Virtual Civil War Weekend is “Resources for War.” Nine expert historians will explore overlooked but crucial elements of the conflict, from nourishment and clothing to the millions of horses and mules that provided transportation.

Attendees will learn how soldiers and their families coped with the heartache and trauma by communicating with one another through photographs and letters. The historians will even explore how soldiers and civilians sometimes argued over how the war should be remembered.

 The speaker lineup includes:

  • Emmanuel Dabney, a historian at the Petersburg National Battlefield whose ancestors include slaveholders, free and enslaved Black people, and non-slaveholding white people;
  • William C. “Jack” Davis, the author of more than 50 books on the Civil War and Southern history and the former executive director of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies;
  • Angelo Esco Elder, a former postdoctoral fellow in the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies whose research explores gender, emotion, family, and trauma in the Civil War Era South;
  • David Gerleman, a 19th century historian and an emeritus assistant editor of “The Papers of Abraham Lincoln”;
  • Hilary Green, author of “Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools in the Urban South, 1865-1890”;
  • Kurt Luther, an associate professor of computer science and history at Virginia Tech who created the Civil War Photo Sleuth website, which uses crowdsourcing and facial recognition to identify unknown soldiers;
  • Caroline Wood Newhall, the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies postdoctoral fellow, who analyzes the experiences of Black Civil War soldiers who became prisoners of war in the Confederacy;
  •  Dana B. Shoaf, editor of Civil War Times magazine, who researches the impact of the percussion cap on the tactics of the Civil War; and
  • Sarah Jones Weicksel, director of research and publications at the American Historical Association and author of several works, including an upcoming book focused on how Americans used clothing to wage war against one another across a wide range of battlefronts.

“We are honored to bring together Civil War historians who represent diverse backgrounds and stages of their careers,” said Quigley. “These talented scholars and storytellers will help us explore the ‘Resources for War’ theme of the program, from the invention of the Minié ball bullet, which changed warfare dramatically, to the critical resource of human labor that both sides needed so desperately.”

Created by James I. “Bud” Robertson Jr., the legendary founder of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies, the Civil War Weekend has united thousands of curious minds in Blacksburg since 1991. Last March, Quigley planned to dedicate Civil War Weekend to honor the life of Robertson, who passed away in late 2019. But the rise of COVID-19 cases in the United States forced the cancelation of Civil War Weekend 2020.

Quigley said he’s hopeful for an opportunity to dedicate Civil War Weekend 2022 to Robertson as part of a return to in-person programming and Virginia Tech’s Sesquicentennial celebration.

In line with the university’s efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies has shifted all of its programming online. Quigley and Newhall, who will serve as the center’s postdoctoral fellow through 2022, organized a free speaker series this academic year titled “New Perspectives on the Civil War Era.”

The speaker series features a diverse group of up-and-coming experts in the field as they share their research. “We’ve been able to reach new audiences far beyond the typical on-campus event while responding to increasing interest in Black history of the Civil War era,” said Quigley.

Visit the center’s website to learn more participating in the “New Perspectives on the Civil War Era” series.

Anyone interested in registering for the upcoming virtual Civil War Weekend events can find additional resources through the center’s Virtual Civil War Weekend page.

 Quigley emphasized the weekend’s spirit of inclusiveness.

“Civil War Weekend is open to anyone interested in learning more about the war, not just those who already have a deep knowledge of its history,” said Quigley. “This year’s Civil War Weekend will certainly look different in format, but the ultimate goal remains the same: We will continue striving to make connections between the speakers and the attendees, and gain a deeper understanding of the nation’s history together.”

Written by Andrew Adkins