Former director of Virginia Center for Civil War Studies wins prestigious Lincoln Forum award
December 17, 2015
BLACKSBURG — William C. “Jack” Davis, retired director of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies, received the prestigious 2015 Richard Nelson Current Award of Achievement from the Lincoln Forum.
By winning the award, Davis joined an impressive list of recipients. Previous winners include documentarian Ken Burns, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, actor Sam Waterston, author Doris Kearns Goodwin, and playwright Tony Kushner.
Davis was presented the Current Award during the 2015 Lincoln Forum symposium, which was held Nov. 16-18 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
“It was a pretty complete surprise,” Davis said. “I was very tickled. It’s a pretty good company of others who have received it. As you see from the other awardees, it’s not just restricted to any one endeavor; it cuts across many bases.”
The award is the Lincoln Forum’s highest honor, according to the 1,100-member, national organization that describes its mission as to “enhance the understanding and preserve the memory of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War.”
Davis has been invited to speak at several previous annual Lincoln Forum symposiums.
“This confirms what anyone who knows the world of Civil War history knows, which is that he’s one of the major players and has been for a long time,” said Paul Quigley, the current director of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies. “With Jack, the thing that makes him stand out is the breadth and quality of his writing. You look at the research that’s gone into his books, and the literary quality, and it’s just astounding.”
Davis has written or edited more than 50 books. Among them are "Jefferson Davis: The Man and His Hour," which according to the Lincoln Forum “is widely acknowledged as the definitive biography of the Confederate president,” and "A Government of Our Own: The Making of the Confederacy," which according to the forum “is regarded as the most important history of the Confederate States of America.”
Davis said he just finished writing a book on Loreta Velazquez, a woman who achieved fame when she claimed to have posed as Confederate soldier. Now he’s on his next project, editing a cache of letters between Gabriel and Nannie Wharton. Gabriel Wharton was a Confederate general, served on the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors from 1874-1877, and was rector from 1875-1877.
In April, Davis won a record fourth Jefferson Davis Award from the Museum of the Confederacy. Davis won for his book “Crucible of Command: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee -- The War They Fought, The Peace They Forged.”
If you read Davis’ books, he’s not taking the easy way out and regurgitating what’s out there, Quigley said. “He’s going into the archives looking at all the relevant primary sources. He’s really exhaustive in his research. Then he finds a way to present that research in a really attractive way.”
Although officially retired as the head of the Center for Civil War Studies, Davis is still involved with the organization. He plans to speak at the 25th annual Civil War Weekend, March 18-20 in Blacksburg.
He has also remained a dedicated supporter of Virginia Tech. Davis and his wife, Sandra Davis, are members of the President’s Circle within the Ut Prosim Society of donors to the university, and their philanthropy includes significant backing for the Center for the Arts and the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and the Department of Athletics.
A part of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, the mission of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies is to consolidate and extend Virginia Tech’s leading role in the teaching, scholarship, and public dissemination of Civil War history. Besides its archiving initiatives, it offers public programs such as the Civil War Weekend and a Civil War film series.