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Lincoln Forum presents annual achievement awards

Posted on Sunday, January 1, 2017 at 12:01 am

Forum Vice Chairman Harold Holzer (Left) and Chairman Frank J. Williams (Right) present Richard Nelson Current Award of Achievement to Professor Emeritus James I. “Bud” Robertson, Jr.

Forum Vice Chairman Harold Holzer (Left) and Chairman Frank J. Williams (Right) present Richard Nelson Current Award of Achievement to Professor Emeritus James I. “Bud” Robertson, Jr.

The Lincoln Forum has presented its coveted annual achievement awards to a revered Civil War historian and a respected battlefield preservation organization.  The 2016 Richard Nelson Current Award, honoring individuals who have elevated the study of Lincoln and the Civil War era, went to Dr. James I. (“Bud”) Robertson, Jr., retired history professor at Virginia Tech and author of definitive biographies and studies related to the Civil War.  The Wendy Allen Award, recognizing organizations that enhance knowledge of the war, went to the Gettysburg Foundation, which supports preservation and visitation at America’s most famous national military park.  Both awards were given at the closing banquet at the 21st annual Lincoln Forum symposium at the Wyndham Gettysburg Hotel.  More than 300 enrollees and guests were in attendance, and Professor Robertson offered the keynote address.

“We are honored by the opportunity to honor this year’s extraordinary award recipients,” said Frank J. Williams, the former Rhode Island Chief Justice who serves as Chairman of The Lincoln Forum.  “Bud Robertson is a beloved and scholarly author, preservation advocate, public speaker, and leader in the movement to remember the Civil War from all perspectives.  And the Gettysburg Foundation has done brilliant work to create a new visitor center, preserve the historic site where so much was lost and won, and to create new public sites for the visitors who still come in the hundreds of thousands to bear witness to this American shrine.  Both award winners exemplify the Forum’s tradition of acknowledging people and groups who advance the cause of exploring, remembering, and consecrating the Civil War and its greatest leader, Abraham Lincoln.”

Richard Nelson
Current Award to “Bud” Robertson

In presenting the Current Award to Prof. Robertson, Lincoln Forum Vice Chairman Harold Holzer acknowledged the honoree’s scholarship, public service, television appearances, and battlefield tours, but began by noting: “Fifty-five years ago, a brand-new president entered office to find the rapidly-approaching Civil War centennial in disarray—with only three months left until the commemoration of the opening guns at Fort Sumter.  In desperation, John F. Kennedy turned to historian Allan Nevins to take over as chairman.  And in his first and wisest move, Nevins hired a young, new executive director: Bud Robertson.  Bud helped rescue the centennial, and just two years later, when President Kennedy was killed, his widow turned to Bud to create an East Room funeral that would be just like Lincoln’s.

“Bud plunged into the records at the Library of Congress, reimagined the scene, and found the original Lincoln catafalque to hold the remains of the latest chief to fall victim to an assassin.  Now, fast forward half a century—as the state of Virginia led the nation in planning for the sesquicentennial of that same war.  This time—after all the books, all the tours, all the guest lectures, all the television appearances, plus a lifetime of teaching, to 22,000 students over four decades, this time the powers that be wasted no time in turning to the veteran who had led the battles of 1961.”  Robertson helped lead plan and lead Virginia’s commemoration of the Civil War’s 150th anniversary.

Holzer also cited Robertson’s magisterial biography of Stonewall Jackson, his “deep dives” into the lives of “Billy Yank” and “Johnny Reb,” the war’s common soldiers—including “every aspect of the life, labor, and courage of the fighting men who waged the war to save the Union, or leave it.”

“This year alone, at age 86,” Holzer acknowledged, “and after a bad fall and surgery that would have slowed most younger men, Bud Robertson published not one but two new books: a riveting look at the aftermath of the war, and a much-needed annotated edition of one of the conflict’s most important original sources, a wartime diary by Rebel War clerk John B. Jones.  And he went on tour to promote both of them!”

Previous winners of the Richard Nelson Current Award of Achievement are: historian Gabor Boritt (1996); C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb (1997); “historian of the century” John Hope Franklin (1998); U. S. Senator Paul Simon of Illinois (1999); biographer David Herbert Donald (2000); historian Garry Wills (2001); historian James M. McPherson, with an honorary award to the dean of Lincoln scholars, Richard Nelson Current himself (2002); actor Sam Waterston (2003); Ulysses S. Grant authority John  Y. Simon (2004); the award’s sculptor of record, John McClarey, together with an honorary award for founding chairman Williams (2005); historian Doris Kearns Goodwin (2006); novelist Jeff Shaara (2007); documentary filmmaker Ken Burns (2008); Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (2009); historian Mark E. Neely, Jr. (2010); battlefield guide extraordinaire Ed Bearss (2011); Reconstruction scholar Eric Foner (2012); playwright and scenarist Tony Kushner (2013); dean of Lincoln re-enactors James Getty (2014); and in 2015, Lincoln assassination authority Edward Steers Jr., historian William C. “Jack” Davis, and an honorary award to Forum founding vice chair Holzer.

The annual Lincoln Forum Award of Achievement is named for the late, Bancroft Prize winning scholar Richard Nelson Current (1912-2012), author of The Lincoln Nobody Knows, Lincoln and the Last Shot, and many other classics of the Lincoln literature.  The Current Award comes in the form of Decatur, Illinois sculptor John McClarey’s impressionistic statuette, Freedom River

Wendy Allen Award to Gettysburg Foundation

The Lincoln Forum’s annual Wendy Allen Award for organizational achievements and excellence went to the Gettysburg Foundation, a non-profit educational group that works to enhance both the understanding and preservation of the heritage of Gettysburg, along with the nation-saving battle that raged there July 1-3, 1863 and the iconic speech that Abraham Lincoln later offered there in tribute to those “who here gave their lives that that nation might live.”

Working in partnership with the National Park Service, the Foundation notably raised the funds to build the highly-acclaimed and well-attended new Museum and Visitor Center at the National Military Park, and to restore and re-hang there Paul Philoppoteaux’s monumental Cyclorama painting, The Battle of Gettysburg.  The foundation also contributes to the preservation of land, monuments, buildings, and artifacts, and supports battlefield rehabilitation.  It maintains an active website ( to provide information on tours and sites, and to promote attractions and events.  And the Foundation hosts leadership programs, annual “Sacred Trust” lectures and book events; and educational activities for both teachers and K-12 students.  The group was formed in 1998 with the merger of the Gettysburg Battlefield Museum Foundation and the Friends of Gettysburg.

Commented Chief Justice Williams in presenting the 2016 award: “In preservation, acquisition, education and leadership, the foundation has been extraordinarily successful with its public outreach and private financial support, with 20,000 current ‘friends.’  Its record of achievements—including the $105 million raised for the design and construction of the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center, general landscape restoration, restoration of the George Spangler Farm, which our Lincoln Forum members visited, the Gettysburg Lincoln Railroad Station, the Cemetery Ridge Rehabilitation, the Lincoln 1863 iOS Smartphone app, and the Gilder Lehrman Special Exhibits Gallery in the Museum and Visitor Center—the Gettysburg Foundation has clearly proven not only its worth, but its success in getting things done.  For these reasons, the Lincoln Forum is pleased to present this year’s Wendy Allen Award of Achievement to the Gettysburg Foundation.”

The Wendy Allen Award was accepted at the November 18 Lincoln Forum Symposium’s closing banquet by the Gettysburg Foundation’s Board Chairman, Robert A. Kinsley, together with the organization’s Vice Chair, Barbara J. Finfrock.  Some 25 Gettysburg Foundation board members attended the event.

The award is a framed color print of an original Lincoln portrait by Gettysburg’s most celebrated artist, Wendy Allen, who helped again this year to present it.  Commented Ms. Allen: “I am proud to have my name and work associated with the esteemed organization, The Lincoln Forum, and with founders and living legends Chief Frank Williams and Harold Holzer.  And to have my artwork, created in Gettysburg, given as the award to the distinguished Gettysburg Foundation in recognition of its non-profit work is very special.”

In previous years, the Forum’s award for institutional excellence has gone to such organizations as: the Friends of Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D. C.; President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home in Washington, D. C.; the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, IL; The Lincoln-Douglas Society in Freeport, IL; the Ulysses S. Grant Association in Starkville, MS; the Lincoln Shrine in Redlands, CA; The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, New York City; and the Lincoln Heritage Museum at Lincoln College in Lincoln, Illinois.

-By Harold Holzer

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