THE BACK STORY: The Civil War is big for tourism in Virginia, which promotes the notion that more major battles were fought there than in any other state. The Virginia General Assembly began planning for the observation of the 150th anniversary of the war (1861-65) as far back as 2006. In 2009, it officially created the (get ready for a long name) Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission.
THE INSPIRED IDEA: As planning started, former Arlington Del. Albert C. Eisenberg (D) — a Civil War buff — suggested asking residents of the state to come forward with any war-related letters and diaries they had in their family. The idea was carried forward by at least two other powerful politicians: current House of Delegates Speaker William Howell (R) of Stafford and former state Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D) of Prince William.
WHAT THEY DID: The Commission funded the State Library to send two archivists around the state with digital scanners, making high-resolution copies of documents brought by residents. They roamed Virginia between 2010 and 2015.
WHAT THEY FOUND: Some 33,000 pages of letters, diaries, documents and photographs poured in from all over the state. The library didn’t keep the originals, just scanned them and offered tips for preservation.
WHAT THEY DID WITH IT: The official name of the digital trove is now the (even longer name) James I. Robertson Jr. Civil War Sesquicentennial Legacy Collection. Robertson is a noted hisorian, author and retired Virginia Tech professor who advised the effort and wrote a book based on some of the documents.
HOW TO VIEW IT: The documents are available online and can be searched at http://www.virginiamemory.com/collections/cw150. The library will still scan documents that are submitted, but is no longer actively seeking them. Robertson’s book - Civil War Echoes, Voices from Virginia 1860-1891 - was published in September by the commission.