I went back to college this week. My professor Alumni Distinguished Professor James I. “Bud” Robertson, Jr. is retiring from teaching the largest Civil War class in the country after over half a century at Virginia Tech. I took the opportunity when in Blacksburg to do some research on William T. Sherman and his march through Georgia and the Carolinas for my friend R. Wayne Jones for a book about the Battle of Aiken, a cavalry fight between Joseph Wheeler and Judson Kilpatrick.
When Bud came in, I spoke to him briefly and was pleased to see his nearly eight decade old eyes light up and a big smile saying to me he could not believe I would come to class. Bud then came to tell us all how much he hated computers, but that he had to do something called a PowerPoint presentation and that with the help of another young coed he had discovered something called Google and that there are images on there of everything. He had most of us in stitches laughing at something we had known for years. Computers were just coming into vogue in 1982 when I started at Virginia Tech and a personal computer sat on a desk and was called an Apple 2E or an IBM PC with 640K memory. My how things have changed.
Well, it was my “last lecture” with my professor. He spoke about “Why the South lost the war” concentrating mainly on Jefferson Davis and in his inability to get along with most of his generals, his vice-president Alexander Stephens and the Confederate Congress. The fifty minutes passed much too quickly and although the time passed way to quickly and I had heard the talk before I remembered why this man meant so much to me. He could bring dry and boring material to life with humor and a presentation that still marvels my mind.
During my trip up I went to Roanoke the night before to hear Kevin Levin speak on the controversial subject of Black Confederates and I went to see The Conspirator about the Lincoln Assassination and the trial and execution of Mary Surratt. So I had a Civil War vacation while going down memory lane. One thing I learned from Bud Robertson was that you should mentor the next generation and that historians need to come out of their ivory towers and bring history to the people especially the students.