Dr. Robertson will be the featured speaker during the Manassas Civil War Weekend, Aug. 23-25. Robertson’s Saturday, Aug. 24 talk will be about theConfederate General Stonewall Jackson, Death and Birth of a Legend, at 4p.m. on the Manassas Museum Lawn. His Sunday talk, The Untold Civil War, based on his newest book, will be at 1 p.m. on Aug. 25 also on Manassas Museum lawn. Both talks are free and part of a three-day weekend filled with living history, music, and events for all ages.
As a young man, Robertson’s interest in history was piqued when he heard his grandmother tell tales about her father’s Civil War exploits. Former students say the stories he told in packed lecture halls were so enthralling that they often forgot to take notes. His mix of humor, first-person stories, curious facts, and insight into the psyches of the people who started and fought the war continues to inspire both scholars and those with little interest in history. His success may be due to what he says he does: “I make history human. It’s full of emotion. It’s not memorization of dates and places.”
He has authored and edited dozens of books, but Robertson’s most well-known work is a 957-page award-winning volume on Stonewall Jackson, which took five years to research and two to write. While teaching and writing, he built the Virginia Tech Special Collections’ Civil War research holdings, produced print and video material that has shaped Civil War history education in Virginia’s public schools, and still serves as executive director of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies <http://www.civilwar.vt.edu>.
President John F. Kennedy asked Robertson to serve as executive director of the national commission of the Civil War Centennial in 1961 after plans centered on a celebration rather than a dignified commemoration. Robertson successfully worked with 34 state and 100 local centennial commissions, all amid the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement. Robertson returned to the issue of commemorations 50 years later as a charter member of Virginia’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, and has been influential in shaping the 150th observances throughout the Commonwealth.
Kennedy’s aides also called Robertson to the White House on the evening of the president’s assassination to redecorate the East Room as it looked when Lincoln’s body lay in state in April of 1865. Robertson positioned the black bunting and located the Lincoln catafalque on which Kennedy’s remains were laid.
When Hollywood came calling, producers used Robertson’s book as the foundation for the portrayal of Jackson in the movie Gods and Generals, and Robertson served as the chief historical consultant for the film. Robertson has also made his mark in radio and television.
Over 14 years, Robertson wrote and narrated a collection of 350 radio commentaries that were aired on National Public Radio stations, and hosted a three-hour,award-winning Blue Ridge Public Television documentary entitled “Virginia in the Civil War: A Sesquicentennial Remembrance.” Designed for use in the classroom, the program was broken down into nine 20-minute segments and distributed free to all public elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as every library system in Virginia. Robertson said he considers this “one of my greatest achievements.”
Visit www.manassascivilwar.org for a complete schedule of events for the Manassas Civil War Weekend.
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