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Blue Ridge PBS's Civil War Documentary Series

Hosted by Dr. James I. Robertson

Dr. James I. "Bud" Robertson
Civil War cannon

Virginia played a key role in the American Civil War. As the region’s story teller, Blue Ridge PBS has worked to share Virginia’s involvement with its viewers.

Beginning in 1996, Blue Ridge PBS produced a 10 part series on a variety of subjects dealing with the American Civil War. Topics include: Railroads during the Civil War, Jackson in the Shenandoah, the life and Legacy of Robert E. Lee, the siege at Petersburg, the Battles of Manassas, and much more. The series is hosted by nationally noted Civil War historian, author, and Alumni Distinguished Professor of History James I. Robertson Jr.

For the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, Blue Ridge PBS produced the Emmy nominated 3 hour documentary, Virginia in the Civil War: A Sesquicentennial Remembrance. Divided into nine sections, the program was designed for use in the schools. The project was produced in conjunction with the Virginia Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission and the Virginia Tech Center for Civil War Studies. It was hosted by James I. Robertson Jr. and William C. Davis.

For information on ordering, call 888-332-7788.

Episode One - Bitter April: Lee's Retreat Across Virginia (released in 1996)

Bitter April DVD cover

General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, forced out of its defensive positions around Petersburg, began retreating westward in an effort to join other Confederate forces in North Carolina. Pursued by an implacable enemy sensing victory at last, Lee's ranks were savaged by hunger, battle and utter weariness. Bloody and proud, this once vaunted and feared army stumbled on, until finally at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia, on April 9, 1865, it surrendered to the overwhelming strength of Union forces led by Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant.

See the grim story of this Bitter April unfold through the eyes of Professor James I. Robertson, Jr., Alumni Distinguished Professor in History at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, noted Civil War historian, author and lecturer. Join him as he retraces Lee's westward march, stopping at the places where history was made; Five Forks where the Confederate line was broken, Namozine Church, where on the floor bloodstains from the wounded on both sides are still visible; Sailor's Creek, where Lee lost 8,000 men, and finally Appomattox Courthouse. Bitter April visits these and other locations along the Route and is further illustrated with Civil War photographs and drawings. In Dr. Robertson's words, Generals Lee and Grant did more than end the Civil War... "They signed the birth certificate of a new nation."

Episode Two - Jackson in the Shenandoah (released in 1997)

Jackson in the Shenandoah DVD cover

Jackson in the Shenandoah is an account of Stonewall Jackson's classic 1862 campaign. Written and hosted by Nationally Known Civil War Historian and pre-eminent Jackson Biographer James I. Robertson, Jr. Stonewall Jackson : The Man, The Soldier, The Legend, Robertson's book, is considered by some to be one of the most well researched and well written biographies, period. Jackson applied audacity, speed, and surprise brilliantly that spring of 1862. Professor Robertson retraces the 600 miles Jackson's "foot cavalry" covered to fight 5 major battles and numerous skirmishes with odds of 3 to 1 against them. In the process he defeated three Union Generals and caused total dislocation of the Federal Offensive on Richmond. The South was in need of victories and heroes, they found both in Jackson in the Shenandoah.

Episode Three - Forgotten Battlegrounds, The Civil War in Southwest Virginia (released in 1998)

Forgotten Battlegrounds DVD cover

When historians examine the civil war in Virginia there are many well known battlefields that come to mind. Mannasas, Chancellorsville, Winchester, and Appomattox are just a few of the names that bring to mind the sacrifices the commonwealth made during those years of conflict. Often overlooked in the history books are the areas beyond Richmond and below the Shenandoah Valley known as southwest Virginia. Yet the contributions made to the war effort and the importance of the battles fought there are in many ways are as significant as the more famous names.

Forgotten Battlegrounds, the Civil War in Southwest Virginia, follows the route of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad as it delivered the soldiers and supplies needed to sustain the armies of the confederacy. The natural resources and secure transportation links so vital to the war effort made the "Mountainous Peninsula" a rich target for numerous Union raids. From The Cumberland Gap to Lynchburg this part of Virginia offered and suffered much during these years of struggle.

To say that this part of the Old Dominion made a contribution is understated at best. An army cannot fight with empty stomachs or empty weapons. The salt ponds of Saltville supplied the Confederacy with it's primary method of preserving meats and the lead mines around Wytheville supplied the munitions. As important as these resources were to the South, many of the states' most famous fighting units also came from this region and the leadership provided by at least 16 generals who were born or made this area their home cannot be overlooked.

Episode Four - Divided Loyalties: Virginia's Northern Piedmont in the Civil War (released in 1999)

Divided Loyalties DVD cover

The Civil War engulfed that part of Virginia from Leesburg to Charlottesville with such intensity that it became known as "The Desolate Land". It was a land of wealth and of servitude, and a land of differing views. This mixture of rolling hills and dense forests witnessed numerous small but bloody skirmishes and enormous strategic battles. That region is the focus of Blue Ridge PBS's fourth installment in the series on the Civil War in Virginia.

Divided Loyalties: Virginia's Northern Piedmont in the Civil War is hosted by Dr. James I. Robertson Jr., Alumni Distinguished Professor in History at Virginia Tech. From the one-sided affair at Balls Bluff to the awesome cavalry engagement at Brandy Station, from the daring Mosby's Rangers to the unique John Minor Botts, cities to railroad junctions to river crossings, churches and hospitals, the war left it's imprint on all.

Episode Five - Bloody Crossroads: The Battles of First and Second Manassas (released in 2000)

Bloody Crossroads DVD cover

Situated between Washington and Richmond and the junction of two important railroads, Manassas, Virginia naturally became a logical place for the first major battle of the Civil War. In July of 1861 both sides thought this would be a short war, glory and honor would abound and then they could all go home. Spectators came from Washington to witness the great victory. What occurred was a disaster for the Union and a realization that along with glory and honor came death and destruction and a long war ahead. Combined losses for the first battle of Manassas were 4,000. In August of 1862, those two armies met again on fields already bloodied. This time the toll was even greater with total casualties over 23,000.

Join Dr. James I. Robertson, Jr. as he guides us over the hills and valleys that surround Bull Run Creek in Northern Virginia. Examining the tactics and strategies that ended in Union retreats each time. Hear of heroic bravery on both sides of the line and learn how Thomas Jonathan Jackson earned his nickname. Manassas battlefield offers one of the best sites to reemphasize the importance of preserving the ground made sacred by blood in the fight for our nation's rebirth.

Episode Six - Tragic Victory: The Battle of Chancellorsville (released in 2001)

Tragic Victory DVD cover

Many Civil War historians consider Chancellorsville Robert E. Lee's most complete victory, and others consider it the south's best chance at independence. James I. Robertson, Jr., Virginia Tech's nationally recognized Civil War author/historian examines General Joe Hooker's plan to trap the Confederate Army and Lee's plan to thwart the Union design by splitting his army twice in the face of 2 to 1 odds. Follow Stonewall Jackson on his incredible flank march that led to the defeat of yet another Union Army. See victory turn to tragedy when the South loses its most able field commander when Jackson is killed by friendly fire.

Episode Seven - Petersburg: Graveyard of the Confederacy (released in 2002)

Petersburg: Graveyard of the Confederacy DVD cover

In the Spring of 1864 the Union Army's new commander Ulysses S. Grant had Robert E. Lee and his Confederates on the run. The North had suffered incredible losses, but they could afford them. Lee's losses, however, were irreplaceable--and Grant knew it. Grant felt he could bleed the south dry in a matter of months, while Lee hoped to destroy Grant's army in pieces, one corps at a time. They were both wrong. Learn of the ingenuity and bravery at the disastrous Battle of the Crater, and of the long, ten-month siege of the City of Petersburg.

Petersburg is hosted by Dr. James I. Robertson, Jr. and William C. "Jack" Davis Virginia Tech's nationally recognized Civil War authors and historians.

Episode Eight - America's Bloodiest Day: Twelve Hours at Antietam (released in 2003)

America's Bloodiest Day DVD cover

In late August 1862, the Confederate States of America were riding the crest of victory. The Army of Northern Virginia had decisively defeated yet another union army at The Second Battle of Manassas. General Robert E. Lee decided now was the time to take the fight north. He hoped that by invading Western Maryland and Pennsylvania he could protect Virginia's harvest, rally Marylanders to his cause, and threaten Washington and Baltimore. In early September, the Southern Army, numbering over 50,000, crossed the Potomac. Lee planed to divide the army. Stonewall Jackson was to capture the Union garrison at Harper's Ferry, then reunite and move north. General George McClellan had been restored to command of the Army of the Potomac and was hoping for a second chance against General Lee. McClellan got a lucky break when a copy of Lee's plan of attack fell into his hands. Now he knew where the rebel army was and thought he could trap it and destroy it.

America's Bloodiest Day: Twelve Hours at Antietam is hosted by Dr. James I. Robertson, Jr. and William C. Davis, Virginia Tech's nationally recognized Civil War authors and historians. They will guide viewers through what many historians believe to be the most decisive battle of the war: from Stonewall Jackson's encirclement of Harper's Ferry, leading to the largest surrender of Union Troops in the war; from the valiant delaying actions at South Mountain, through the twelve-hour bloodbath at Sharpsburg that left 23,000 casualties. The Battle of Antietam was fought in three phases, each giving American history memorable landmarks. The morning battle was fought through The Cornfield toward the Dunker Church; the midday battle turned a sunken farm road into Bloody Lane; the afternoon fight crossed over The Burnside Bridge. Those who survived never forgot these battle sites. Both sides claimed victory, but in truth -- there were no winners at Antietam.

Afterward the nation saw for the first time shocking photographs of the aftermath of battle displayed at Matthew Brady's studios. The Union claim of victory gave President Lincoln the courage to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. And the hope for European support of the Confederacy faded away.

Episode Nine - Robert E. Lee: His Life and Legacy (released in 2004)

Robert E. Lee: His Life and Legacy DVD cover

James I. Robertson, Jr. and William C. Davis, Virginia Tech's distinguished author/historian team, trace the life of a man who lived by a simple code: Honor-Duty-Valor. His God of Man also became his God of battle.

Virginia had been in existence for 180 years when the United States was created. Lee family roots had been planted deep in Virginia soil for 130 of those years. Lee's father had signed the Declaration of independence; yet when the son had to make a decision between state and nation, Robert E. Lee could not forsake his birthright.

Follow the brilliant, sad, inspirational journey of Lee in this documentary. The West Point years and engineering accomplishments precede extraordinary courage in the Mexican War. It was Lee who commanded troops sent to subdue John Brown at Harper's Ferry in the 1859 raid that many consider the first shots fired in the Civil War. When that war came 18 months later Lee turned down command of all Union forces because he could not wage war against his beloved Old Dominion.

In the spring of 1862, Lee took command of the Confederate's premier fighting force. He and his Army of Northern Virginia made unforgettable history. Undersized, ill equipped, poorly fed but superbly led, "Lee's Miserables" waged one of the most valiant defenses in the history of warfare. The Seven days, Second Manassas, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness and Spottsylvania to Petersburg and Appomattox - all comprise a story of bravery and sacrifice now an integral art of the American heritage. When the cause was lost, Lee the soldier sought reconciliation by becoming Lee the educator. He accepted the presidency of impoverished Washington College in Lexington. In five years Lee made the school one of the finest liberal arts colleges in existence. Small wonder that at Lee's death in 1870, the whole nation mourned.

To this day, the Virginia soldier and American citizen remains one of history's most respected figures.

Episode Ten - Riding the Rails to Victory: Railroads in the Civil War (released in 2005)

Riding the Rails to Victory DVD cover

Hosted by Dr. James I. Robertson, Jr., Alumni Distinguished Professor of History at Virginia Tech and William C. Davis, the Director of Programs for Virginia's Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech, this episode focuses on the role of the railroads in the Civil War.

The American Civil War was the first modern war of the 19th century. There were many advancements in communication, medicine, and armaments. But the biggest difference maker in the conduct of war was the increased use of the railroads. The railroads changed the strategy and tactics that generals could employ. Railroads were capable of moving thousands of troops and tons of supplies, faster and in all weather conditions. Stonewall Jackson's troops arrived at Manassas via trains to bring the South victory in the first major battle of the war. One of the most exciting railroad tales from the war was "The Great Locomotive Chase" of 1862. We examine these events as well as learn of the railroad leaders of the time and the use of the telegraph.

Don Piedmont

"Riding the Rails to Victory" is dedicated to our friend, Don Piedmont. 1928-2005

Virginia in the Civil War: A Sesquicentennial Remembrance (released in 2009)

Virginia in the Civil War: A Sesquicentennial Remembrance DVDs

Virginia was the pivotal state in the Civil War. As the mother state of the Union, it was a reluctant addition to the Confederate States of America. Over 60% of the battles in the four year Civil War were fought in Virginia. The Old Dominion suffered more damage in that period than has any other area in the western hemisphere. This documentary concentrates on Virginia's contributions, its sacrifices and the gallantry displayed by citizens at all levels during this nation-molding struggle.

This project was produced in conjunction with the Virginia Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission and the Virginia Tech Center for Civil War Studies. The program was shot and edited entirely in High Definition. Designed for use in the classroom, the three hour documentary was broken down into nine 20 minute segments.

William C, Davis & Bud Robertson in front of Civil War cannon