Virginians share fragile relics for Civil War's 150th anniversary

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Betty Jean Vera came clutching a sheaf of yellowing papers, rolled tight and wrapped with string, which she had found in a musty trunk in her attic. The author was a young Confederate soldier.

Next came Lindsay Grant Hope, a Realtor, with another Civil War diary. The cover was moldy with age, the pages dog-eared and frail, the writing flowery and precise. It belonged to her great-great-grandmother.

Those haunting voices and other poignant portraits of America's bloodied past are public for the first time now. Archivists are visiting 129 cities and towns across Virginia to digitally scan long-hidden journals, letters, maps and other Civil War records into an online database before they disappear forever.

The project is among hundreds of efforts to commemorate the Civil War sesquicentennial, which starts next month. Nearly every state that existed 150 years ago, and several that didn't, has planned reenactments, workshops or other programs to mark the horrors and the heroism of the deadliest struggle in American history.

Whether the Civil War is still deeply divisive remains to be seen. Bitter passions overshadowed the last major anniversary, the centennial of 50 years ago. Many of those events appeared to romanticize the Confederacy and glorify its myths, historians say.

The federal commission that oversaw the centennial emphasized states' rights, not slavery, as the chief cause of the Southern rebellion, and they barely noted the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves. It also ignored the civil rights struggle then roiling America, though it was a direct result of the institutionalized segregation imposed in the post-war period....

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