Op-Ed Piece by Secretary Kay Goodwin

May 12, 2011

One-hundred-fifty years ago last month, Confederate soldiers in South Carolina fired the Civil War’s first shots.  That salvo opened the darkest chapter in our nation’s history:  four years of bloody warfare that pitted brother against brother and ultimately claimed hundreds of thousand American lives.  It remains the deadliest war America has ever fought.   

         The Civil War’s sesquicentennial has special meaning here in West Virginia.  Our great state was born out of that terrible conflict.  As America marks the war’s anniversary, we West Virginians have particular reason to pause and reflect.  The next four years will offer dozens of opportunities to do just that.  Across the state, West Virginians are planning an outstanding array of events to commemorate the war and celebrate our state’s birth.  These experiences will provide opportunities for all West Virginians—from youngsters to Civil War experts—to learn more about our state’s rich and distinctive history.  Local communities, non-profit organizations, state agencies, and colleges and universities are collaborating to create exciting and diverse programming for all West Virginians. 

         For example, on July 6-8, 2011, the West Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission is partnering with the Rich Mountain Battlefield Foundation to host three days of events based on the First Campaign of the Civil War.  The First Campaign was fought in the territory that would later become West Virginia, and its early battles proved to be critical training for Civil War leaders such as General George B. McClellan and General Robert E. Lee.  The First Campaign secured the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad for the Union and set the stage for West Virginia statehood.  The following events will be held in Elkins and are free and open to the public: lectures by acclaimed academic historians Hunter Lesser, author of Rebels at the Gate, and Will Greene, Director of the Pamplin Historical Park; a Civil War art exhibit at the Randolph County Community Arts Center; and a concert by the Blue and Gray Choir of Philippi, WV.  

         In addition, the Rich Mountain Battlefield Foundation will be offering comprehensive battlefield tours of Philippi, Laurel Hill, Rich Mountain, Corrick’s Ford, Cheat Summit Fort, Fort Marrow at Camp Elkwater, and Beverly’s Mount Iser Confederate Cemetery.  The tours will be led by historians Hunter Lesser and Richard A. Wolfe and will feature selective living history.  A registration fee is required for the tours, and scholarships are available for interested students.  For additional information on the First Campaign Tour events, please visit:

         Anyone interested in visiting historic sites should consult the WV Division of Tourism’s website.  The Division has partnered with Civil War Trails Inc., a multi-state program in Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, North Carolina, and West Virginia that identifies and marks historically significant Civil War sites.  By June, West Virginia will have more than 150 sites on the Civil War Trails as part of this multi-state driving tour.  In addition to the Civil War Trails sites, the Division’s website also has comprehensive listings of Civil War battlefields, cemeteries and upcoming events in our State.  I encourage all West Virginians to visit some historically significant sites in your area; we truly have a unique and interesting history and you have the opportunity to experience much of it firsthand.  To find detailed information about these historic sites and upcoming community events, contact the Division of Tourism website at  or give them a call at 1-800-CALL WVA (800-225-5982).  You can also find information at your local Convention and Visitors Bureau or one of West Virginia’s Interstate Welcome Centers.

         The state’s Division of Culture and History has planned a number of fantastic educational opportunities for students.  In addition to creating lesson plans for teachers, the Division will also be coordinating the Sesquicentennial Snapshot.  This program will distribute a laptop and a digital camera to one high school in each county.  With instruction and assistance from the Division’s staff, students will be asked to photograph places and things in their county that have important ties to the sesquicentennial.  Their photographs will be featured in the new WV150 Exhibit at the Culture Center in 2013.  The Division also will collaborate with Goldenseal Magazine to host a sesquicentennial essay contest for high school students.  Goldenseal will publish the winning essay. 

         The Division of Culture and History’s programming is not just for kids.  The Division’s staff is also working on several new exhibits exploring the state’s founding and our achievements over the past century and a half.  These new exhibits will be showcased over the next four years in the State Museum.    The museum will also host a quilting contest, heritage cooking classes, a barn painting project, and many other events throughout the state.  For more information on the events, please visit the Division’s website:    

         West Virginians interested in art and art history should plan a visit to Elkins this summer.  The Randolph County Community Arts Center will feature a special sesquicentennial exhibit, “Echoes of the Past:  The Civil War 150 Years Later.”  The exhibit will run from June 22 to August 19, 2011, and is a one-of-a-kind collection.  It will feature works by ten of the best-known Civil War artists of our time: Casteel, Churms, Gallon, Kunstler, Muir, Reeves, Rocco, Schmehl, Strain, and Troiani.  This is a rare collection and one you can’t miss.  For hours and more information, please visit their website,

         Over the next four years, the West Virginia Humanities Council will offer a number of sesquicentennial-related educational programs.  The Council’s Sesquicentennial Speakers Bureau has a full slate of historians who will present lectures around the state.  The Council also has planned a number of History Alive! character presentations, including portrayals of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, David Hunter Strother, Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, and Belle Boyd. For dates and locations, please check the Council’s website at

         The events mentioned here are only a sampling of the complete lineup.  For a full listing, please visit the West Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission’s website at  Also on the Commission’s website are grant applications for local communities and organizations planning sesquicentennial events in 2011.  Grants of up to $5,000 are available. 

         One thing that makes West Virginians unique is our unmatched pride in our state’s history.  I hope every West Virginian will take time over the next few years to help commemorate that legacy.


 Kay Goodwin is the Cabinet Secretary of Education and the Arts.  She is also the chairman of the West Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission.    


* All photographs are courtesy of the West Virginia State Archives
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