Lori Parrent
Secretary to Gen. Peay

P: (540) 464-7311
F: (540) 464-7660
E: parrentlr@vmi.edu

201 Smith Hall
Virginia Military Institute
Lexington, VA 24450

Remarks and Introduction at Civil War Sesquicentennial Conference

General J.H. Binford Peay, III, Superintendent  22 March 2012 

Mr. Speaker Howell, Commission members, ladies and gentlemen.  On behalf of the entire VMI community, I welcome you most warmly to the 2012 Signature Conference of the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War.  The Virginia Military Institute, whose cadets and alumni played a part in that struggle and whose history was shaped by it, is honored to host this conference.

Our location, in Marshall Hall - Center for Leadership and Ethics, has special significance for today’s sessions on “Leadership and Generalship in the Civil War.”  To our north, in the oldest part of the VMI Barracks, is the classroom where Thomas Jonathan Jackson, soon to be known as “Stonewall,” taught physics and instructed in artillery.  He rests, along with many other veterans of that war, in the town’s cemetery.  To our south, below the Chapel at Washington and Lee University, is the final resting place of General Robert E. Lee, who spent the last years of his life as president of that college. And, to our east, within sight of this building, is the home of wartime Governor John Letcher, whose descendants – in fact – once owned the land on which this Marshall Hall stands.  The American Civil War was deadly, costly, and destructive to north and south.  At the end, our own Institute lay in ruins, the victim of General David Hunter’s shelling and occupation of the town in June of 1864.  In fact, wherever you walk in this small town, reminders of the American Civil War abound.

Today, we study the war to learn and to think about its many dimensions.  We study the war in order to understand motivations, causes, and consequences, and – with today’s conference in mind – we study it to understand the men and women who played leading strategic roles in its conduct. Judging from the number of books, studies, conferences, and other related events that have been produced on the Civil War, there appears to be no end to the interest in that conflict and the lessons to be learned.  And that is as it should be given the importance of the Civil War in the history of our nation.

The Commonwealth of Virginia has special reason to mark the anniversary of that conflict.  By some estimates, 60 percent of the battles of the Civil War were fought, and many of its leading generals were Virginians. The General Assembly of Virginia created the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission in 2006, and under the direction of Speaker Howell, the commission has been planning and organizing events across the state to commemorate and to better understand the significance of the war. 

William Howell was sworn in as the 54th Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates in January of 2003.  He was first elected a Delegate in 1987, representing the 28th House District, which includes parts of Stafford County and the City of Fredericksburg, a city and surroundings that stand out in any consideration of the Civil War.

Mr. Howell’s role in the House of Delegates is well known, as are his efforts to bring about a broad-based transformation of Virginia state government.  In addition to his legislative duties, he is involved in many historic preservation activities.  The Civil War Preservation Trust named him as the 2005 and 2007 recipient of their State Leadership Award for his success in promoting innovative land conservation tax credits.  He also oversaw the first total renovation in 100 years of the Virginia State Capitol.  He was a leader in organizing the successful commemoration in 2007 of America’s 400th Anniversary at Jamestown, which was attended by the President of the United States and Queen Elizabeth II.  A citizen-legislator, he practices trust and estate law in a log cabin that he had restored and which overlooks the Rappahannock River near his home in historic Falmouth.

A very genuine person…a thoughtful, wise gentleman…and leader…

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, William J. Howell.