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Spotsylvania leads charge
Planning begins for Civil War's 150th anniversary

 A photographer captured a scene from Union Gen. U.S. Grant's Wilderness Campaign in May-June 1864.
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Date published: 5/23/2007


Camera-toting tourists converge on Civil War sites and cemeteries during Memorial Day weekends, but there's an even bigger draw on the horizon.

Beginning in 2011, the Fredericksburg area will be part of a national commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the conflict.

Since Virginia was an epicenter of the war, it's not surprising that planning for the 2011-2015 sesquicentennial has already begun here.

Spotsylvania County was the first jurisdiction in the state to form a planning committee for the historic milestone. The Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution May 8, creating the panel.

Along with having all or parts of four major battlefields, fast-growing Spotsylvania has been at the forefront of local land preservation efforts.

"It's not too early at all to start getting things ready," said Russ Smith, superintendent of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. He noted that this year's 400th anniversary of Jamestown took a decade to plan.

Smith is heading up the National Park Service's efforts. He met last week with counterparts from four other park service regions with Civil War sites.

He's using a plan written several years ago by John Hennessy, the local military parks' chief historian, "to lay out a framework for the anniversary," Smith said. "This is important to Virginia because there are 12 national parks with Civil War themes."

Here, the Wilderness, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Courthouse battlefields spread over 8,000 acres and are visited by more than 200,000 people every year.

Smith said there's much to be done to put the anniversary in perspective.

"What we're trying to do, first of all, is redefine what a Civil War site is. It's not just strategy and tactics," he said.

"We're using the motto: 'The Civil War is not just battles anymore.'"

More than 70 sites nationwide, he noted, have themes related to the war. Even locales such as the Martin Van Buren National Historical Site in New York could be mentioned because of the eighth 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.

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Twelve national parks in the state have Civil War connections.

They are:

Appomattox Court House

Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee memorial in Arlington

Booker T. Washington National Monument in Franklin County

Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park in the Shenandoah Valley

Colonial National Historical Park in Tidewater

Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park

Harper's Ferry National Historical Park (part)

Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site in Richmond

Manassas National Battlefield Park

Petersburg National Battlefield Park

Richmond National Battlefield Park

Shenandoah Valley Battlefields National Historic District