- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 27, 2007

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Spotsylvania County officials want the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Civil War to include a prominent role for central Virginia, where some of the most intense battles took place.

The county’s Board of Supervisors voted earlier this month to create a planning group, making Spotsylvania the first locality in the state to form such a committee for the national commemoration from 2011 to 2015.

“It’s not too early at all to start getting things ready,” said Russ Smith, superintendent of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, who is leading the National Park Service’s efforts in the region to mark the event.

Virginia has 12 national parks with Civil War themes, Mr. Smith said. In the Fredericksburg area, the Wilderness, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Courthouse battlefields occupy more than 8,000 acres and get more than 200,000 visitors each year.

Putting the 150th anniversary into a broader perspective is a major goal, Mr. Smith said.

“What we’re trying to do, first of all, is redefine what a Civil War site is,” he said. “It’s not just strategy and tactics. We’re using the motto: ‘The Civil War is not just battles anymore.’ ”

More than 70 sites nationwide have Civil War themes. Even locales such as the Martin Van Buren National Historical Site in New York could be included because of the eighth U.S. president’s stand on anti-slavery politics.

Some of the overall themes would include causes of the war, the military experience, ethnicity, race, industry and economics, the role of women and civilians, the ordeal of the border states, Reconstruction and reconciliation.

Legislation is pending in Congress to establish a national sesquicentennial commission, which would include funding for related projects.

Virginia last year formed a Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission, headed by state House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford Republican, and state Senate Finance Committee Chairman John H. Chichester, Northumberland Republican.

The Civil War Preservation Trust group also is involved.

With the relentless pace of development in central Virginia, “there are only a couple years left to do any meaningful preservation work,” said group spokesman Jim Campi. “You can safely say that anything not done [before the 150th anniversary] is not likely to be done.”

With the help of partners such as the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, group members last year purchased Slaughter Pen Farm, a crucial part of the southern end of the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg. As a result, Spotsylvania, Fredericksburg and other localities could generate more tourism dollars, Mr. Campi said.

“If it’s anything like the centennial [in 1961], there will be a big surge of interest in the Civil War — people researching their ancestors and wanting to visit places where they fought or lived,” he said.

Mr. Campi said he is not surprised that Spotsylvania has taken an early interest.

“There’s been a lot of growth and it’s a great tourism location on [Interstate] 95,” he said. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”

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