James I. “Bud” Robertson Jr., Alumni Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at Virginia Tech, died on November 2 after a long illness. He was 89 years old.
Dr. Bud, as he liked to be called, was also the legendary founding director of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies. He used vivid stories to bring the American Civil War to life not just for generations of Virginia Tech students, but also for millions across the world through his award-winning books, frequent television appearances, popular radio essays, and passionate advocacy of history. Thanks to him and those he inspired, Virginia Tech is widely known as a leading home of Civil War history.
We encourage those touched by Dr. Bud’s extraordinary legacy to offer their tributes here.
I was fortunate to have a longstanding relationship with Dr. Robertson, as a fellow Danvillian, graduate of Randolph-Macon College and lover of history. As a high school student, he was in a YMCA-sponsored group for which my father was advisor. My family has had a long connection to R-MC, where he attended. When I was growing up, I delivered the Danville Register & Bee newspapers to his mother. This was during the Civil War Centennial and she would have him send early copies of the Commission’s publications to me. The academic benefits still make me smile. My last contact with… Read more »
Sadly, I just recently learned of Dr. Robertson’s passing. I have read his books and watched every lecture or presentation I could find online over the years. His contributions to scholarship regarding the War Between the States is irreplaceable. Around a year or so ago, I e-mailed him. We were strangers, but I thanked him for his life’s work and, in particular, for bravely stating something modern historians rarely do — that is, that the people of history must be judged by their times and not by modern sensibilities. It is rare to hear that these days, and few have… Read more »
I met Dr. Robertson through some of the early Civil War Weekends at Virginia Tech. These events are some of my fondness memories from my time living in VA. I especially liked the Sunday morning service he gave at the end of the weekend. Afterwards, me and my friends would always go up to talk to him. He was such a kind man, and he made you feel completely at ease in conversation. You couldn’t help but sense that this was a person who had a genuinely good soul. It’s been many years since I’ve seen him, but I’ve never… Read more »
It is hard for me to grasp the passing of Dr. Robertson – he had such a presence about him that I guess I thought he would go on forever – I wrote him in 2011 when he received so many accolades for his contributions to the University & the Commonwealth – I told him that I was an Tech engineering student who had the very good fortunate to discover a course on the Civil War – I recall that the class I took had about 20 students, but the next quarter after the word got out, there were more… Read more »
I was fortunate to be among the first group of Virginia Tech graduate students in history taught by Dr. Bud. While my ultimate specialization in earning a Ph. D. in history at Vanderbilt was not the Civil War, the man shaped me in significant ways as a student and scholar. My seminar paper for his graduate Civil War class was the first scholarly work I had published, and to this day dictums from another graduate class, in historiography and methodology, run through my mind whenever I am writing. We stayed in touch periodically over the years and I took great… Read more »
Dr. John E. Pierce, VT 68, 70. One of my lifelong honors is to have known Dr. Bud for 55 years. He turned my life around in ’65 as his incomparable Civil War class left me wanting to have such an impact on students. Thereafter my studies turned to the Civil War and I became his teaching assistant. HIs guidance led to the publication of my Master’s thesis. Additionally, he called an old friend to help me further my studies at Penn State. Only much later when I helped him publish a series of essays in dedication to Bell I.… Read more »
I never missed one of Dr. Bud’s talks at the Knoxville Civil War Roundtable and never failed to learn something new. I also had the pleasure to sit at the dinner table with him at one of the Stonewall Jackson events at Washington & Lee. I was in attendance when he came to Knoxville for a presentation on the night of 9-11. My favorite presentation was one he gave on Abraham Lincoln and I prepared a slide presentation for my history classes based on that wonderful presentation. I attended Dr. Bud’s last appearance at our roundtable and fortunately got a… Read more »
Bud Robertson was a family friend. My parents, life-time Civil War students, met Bud when he was running the Civil War Centennial. They shared a deep intellectual curiosity about the Civil War–PhD historian and historical “amateurs.” Bud welcomed everyone to the fascination of historical inquiry. I was fortunate enough to be one of his graduate students 1968-1969. As he was the chair of the department, I though it would be advisable to audit his introduction to the Civil War. The class was packed. Bud’s appreciation for history and how to make it accessible to everyone drew large numbers, as I… Read more »
DR .JAMES “BUD” ROBERTSON WAS INVITED TO SPEAK ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED DURING THE YEARS OF THE WAR.. HE CAME TO SPEAK TO OUR UDC MEETING AND AS USUAL GAVE A WONDERFUL TALK ABOUT THE WAR BETWEEN THE STATES. I HEARD HIM SPEAK MANY TIMES AND ALWAYS LEARNED SOMETHING NEW. HE WAS A WONDERFUL MAN AND GAVE SO MUCH TO PERSONS INTERESTED IN HISTORY. HE WILL BE MISSED BY SO MANY. MY THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS GO OUT TO ELIZABETH IN THE LOSS OF HER HUSBAND. MAY HE REST IN PEACE. HELEN GRANT
Bud and Jack Davis agreed to work with me 10 years ago when I retired. With them I established the Essential Civil War Curriculum which I operate to this day and which is now owned by the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies. Their love of Civil War history, foresight, and willingness to support an unorthodox request has given me a decade of joy studying the Civil War and helped create a valuable resource for Civil War students everywhere. Rest in Peace Bud.
Having attended most Campaigning With Lees over a more then thirty year period, my wife and I have felt quite privileged to call Bud a good and dear friend. A finer and truer gentleman we could not imagine. His character was as exceptional as his knowledge of history. Whenever we saw Bud he met us with a great warm smile and greeting. I am sure we will experience both again one day when we see him in heaven.
Campaigners With Lee
My Grandfather started my interest in the War Between the States, and Dr. Robertson gave it life. He often read the eloquent letters soldiers, officer and enlisted alike, sent home. They spoke of the realities of war and love for their spouses and families. Many times a collective groan would fill Burris 100 after a particularly heartfelt letter was read and Dr. Robertson informed us the soldier in question died in battle at a later date. I once asked him about the works of author Shelby Foote. He smiled in his usual manner then said, “They’re an entertaining read.” Always… Read more »
I knew Bud, who became my friend for 31 years while working in the History Department. He was always so delightful to be around and was so passionate about History in any form. As a general rule he would come in my office before his class, check on me, tell me his new historical discovery, give me a hug, and a kiss on the cheek, wishing me a good day! I am saddened by his passing and am sending his family my love and sincere sympathies.
Dr. Robertson made history come alive. I had to wait to take his class in my junior year, and as a business student, I wasn’t expecting much from the auditorium classroom environment in McBride Hall. Dr. Robertson walked in the first day, started his introduction in his easy going dialogue, quickly mesmerizing and commanding the attention in over 300 students within 5 minutes of starting is lecture. That was it – I was forever hooked on Civil War history. I’ve passed on the love for civil war history to my daughter and conducted further research to discover the deep roots… Read more »
I heard Dr. Bud speak at the annual Civil War weekends in March at VT in Blacksburg and Roanoke many times. In 2007 he spoke at a small gathering of alums in Greensboro. His short biography of RE Lee was just out and he graciously spent a good 10 minutes talking with me about Lee, then signed my book. Never forget it. I didn’t attend VT as an undergrad. I hate because of that I never got to take a class under him.
I first knew Dr Robertson as a professor at VT when my husband and I took his class. Sad to say, it was a hard class because we got so absorbed by his skills as an orator that we didn’t take adequate notes to do real well on the tests but he and his class were MEMORABLE. Fast forward 10 years and we had the privilege of being a member of his congregation at St Francis Anglican Church in Blacksburg and then got to know him as Bud Robertson. He baptized both of our children. As our deacon, Bud used… Read more »
Virginia Tech has lost a great man in Dr. Bud. While I never had a class with him, I spent 1 month travelling in Europe with him and several other Va Tech students in 1979. I got to know him outside of academia and only wish I had the opportunity to take one of his classes. Now that he’s in heaven, I’m sure that he will be able to meet all of the men and women he so eloquently wrote about. I am sure he is having a grand time.
BS, Computer Science '81
I cannot avoid smiling when I remember Bud’s infectious wit and humor on the many occasions we participated in a Civil War event. While he was deadly serious about his craft and about history to be emotionally affected when talking about the hardships of that era, he was at the same time warm, thoughtful, witty, and funny in his relations with his colleagues. We will all miss him.
Virginia & all of the United States of America have lost a national treasure.I had the honor & pleasure of meeting Dr. Bud & listening to his spell binding stories on a few occasions while a member of the Richmond Civil War Roundtable. His accomplishments and his generous nature to share his knowledge is beyond compare.
Dr. Bud will be sorely missed by so many. Rest In Peace.
Dr Bud was very kind to me while he was speaking at the University of Richmond, on A.P. Hill. I was assigned there for the US Army teaching Military History. He generously gave me a copy of his book on Hill, the topic of the lecture. I met him again in the morning hours of 12 May 2014 on the battlefield at Spotsylvania Court House for the 150 Anniversary of the Civil War where he was the principal speaker. As he was leaving I told him, “Sir, Secretary of War Stimson during WWII told General Marshall he was the finest… Read more »
LTC USA (Ret)
Our Civil War Round Table in New Jersey had the great good fortune to have Dr. Bud make several presentations to us over the years. His last visit, accompanied by his gracious wife Betty, was in June of this year. As always, he provided a wonderful, spell-binding talk, ending in a standing ovation from the packed conference room. in 2000 we instituted our annual James I. “Bud” Robertson Award in his honor for the most outstanding new book on Confederate history each year. The Civil War community has lost a giant. Dr. Bud will be missed by all.
I was fortunate enough to take his class 2006-2007. He was a gifted speaker and educator and made history come alive for his many students.
My wife, Barb, and I were lucky enough to be among a group of Virginians in the 1970s and 1980s who came into contact with Bud Robertson often enough to call him a good friend. While working at William & Mary in about 1977, we attended a student affairs conference at Virginia Tech. We learned that Bud was giving his acclaimed end-of-semester “common soldier” presentation to his Civil War class. Fortunately, it was in a large auditorium so Barb and I were able to skip out of the student affairs session and attend Bud’s program, instead. It was spellbinding and… Read more »
As a university visitor from the UK my friend Lannis Selz, one of Dr Robertson’s alumni arranged a personal visit to meet up with Dr Robertson when he discovered I had a deep interest in the American Civil war. Our conversation at his home spanned many areas of history and I have fond memories of Dr Robertson being an amazing historian but also that he must have been an outstanding teacher. A real gentleman, he’ll be sorely missed, I’m sure, by everyone.
I met my beloved husband, Richard Sommers, at a Campaigning with Lee seminar, so you can add matchmaker to Bud’s many accomplishments. Dick had great respect for Bud and treasured his friendship, as did I. The Civil War soldier came vividly alive through his stories and he shared his considerable knowledge so effectively. I envision Bud and Dick meeting again to share ideas. Bud was a magnificent man.
I had the unique honor of producing Bud’s weekly commentaries on WVTF and other public radio stations. It took me a couple of years before I felt comfortable suggesting a rewrite here, or an emphasis there. 🙂 The longer we worked together, the longer it took to record the commentaries, because we’d end up talking about any number of things while trying to record. Bud was what I call an ‘easy edit’. Very few fluffs, and he knew exactly where to start over to keep the flow going. We grew to be good friends over those years, but I’ve been… Read more »
Retired Senior Producer
So sad to hear of Bud’s passing. I remember so clearly a meeting we had at
the Montgomery County (MD) Round Table when I asked Bud why he thought our
country was so successful over two centuries and several political crises.
He answered in one word: “compromise.” I will never forget that. His legacy
will live on.
When I was in high school, my dad took me to the Stonewall Jackson House to meet Dr. “Bud” Robertson. He was signing copies of his new biography of “Stonewall” Jackson. I was the youngest person there, outside of a little baby named Robert Lee. For a history nerd like me, it was the equivalent of meeting a rock start I told Dr. Robertson I wanted to be a teacher, and use his books in my classes. Fast forward several years, and I am now a teacher, and I use the information I gathered from Dr. Robertson in my classes.… Read more »
Social Studies Department
Salem High School
Virginia Tech, Class of 2010
Bud Robertson lived an impressive life filled with success as a teacher at Virginia Tech, as a publishing scholar, as an editor, and as a historian who spent a great deal of time reaching non-academic audiences of many kinds. His love of history, especially that of the Civil War and of his home state of Virginia, translated effectively to all those who heard him speak during a career that lasted more than half-a-century. He was a model for anyone who values the need to bridge the gap between academic and popular history.
Dr. Robertson was my friend and mentor as a fellow Civil War historian. May his noble soul rest in honored peace.
Research Archivist, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library
University of Virginia, Charlottesville
Affiliated faculty, John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History,
University of Virginia College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences
Advisory Board of the National Civil War Chaplains’ Research Center and Museum
Board of Trustees of the Confederate Memorial Literary Society (Museum of the Confederacy, 2004-2011)
Gettysburg Foundation Board of Directors
His name was Tom Smith, and he changed my life. He lived in the top floor apartment on the right at the front of 9700 Foxridge in Blacksburg. I lived in the bottom apartment on the right of the same building. We spent most of our free time talking to the two girls that lived on the floor between us. Tom Smith, was as he might say it “a good looking dude,” a finance major, who prefaced all remarks with, “Hey Man.” He was like a surfer except he was from Richmond. We became friends. He got me playing golf… Read more »
When I last talked with Dr. Robertson at the 29th Annual Civil War Weekend I feared that his health was declining. I met him first in 1976 when I took his class on Civil War history. I kept in touch with him since then at Alumni and Athletic events and by attending every Civil War Weekend Event since 1991. My family and I considered him a friend and great man. I will miss him, as will the Virginia Tech Community and Civil War Historians throughout the Commonwealth, nation and world. Rest in Peace Dr. Robertson.
For me Heaven will not be Heaven unless there is a history symposium at least once a week. For this week’s symposium they are going to have to set out extra chairs to handle the larger than normal crowds, for I am sure the special guest will be Dr. James I. “Bud” Robertson. In my humble opinion, Dr. Robertson is the greatest Civil War scholar and teacher ever. It was my pleasure to serve as his graduate assistant for two years (2000-2002) where I learned from him every day. In my academic life there is no greater influence on my… Read more »
Dr. Robertson was my favorite professor at Virginia Tech. He made history come alive for me and I always enjoyed the classes that he taught. His book on Stonewall Jackson is an outstanding work on another great Virginian. I was honored that he signed my copy. I will never forget him.
I am so saddened to hear of Dr. Bud‘s passing. Although not a history major I too spend many hours in McBride 100 listening to his stories, not lectures, on the War between the States. His love and passion for Virginia drew me in and made me proud to be a Virginian. He was a friend to many historical societies and truly embodied our motto “Ut Prosim” . The likes of him will never pass this way again. Truly he was a Virginia Gentleman. Rest well Dr. Bud, under the shade of the trees.
I was touched by his life and moved by his death. I had the privilege of taking Bud Robertson’s 2-semester Civil War course at Virginia Tech while an undergrad and also took at least 1 grad class under him. Although I did not intend to become a Civil War scholar (my dissertation was on the Old Northwest), I have since published and spoken in that field, on the home front, because of how vibrant and essential he made that field of study. I knew as that undergrad in his class that he was the most disciplined scholar I would ever… Read more »
I feel blessed to have taken Dr. Robertson’s class as an undergrad and attended ~15 Civil War Weekends. His words live on in his books I own. He had a wonderful way of making you feel immersed in the period. He was a wonderful ambassador for Virginia Tech and leaves a legacy few can match. He will be sorely missed.
I studied “History of the South” and “History of the Civil War” under Bud at GWU in the early 60’s when he was the Director of the national Civil War Centennial Commission. He was a brilliant, spellbinding teacher who knew everyone of importance in his field. When he delivered an address at a battlefield, we were blessed by his substitutes; Bruce Catton, Virgil Carrington Jones, Alan Nevins and the like. We spent a day walking the battlefield at Gettysburg with the National Park Historian and Bud. We stood on Round Top and looked across at the Confederate positions and for… Read more »
I was a History major and grad student at VT when Dr. Robertson was Chairman of the History Dept. back in the mid/late-’70s. I remember him instilling the fear of God into us in the “Professional Study of History” graduate seminar that he never wanted to hear from a librarian or archivist that we had not followed their instructions as to the use and return of materials. I still think of that whenever I enter a library. I got to see him several times in later years when the Alumni Association brought him here to Tampa Bay for events, and… Read more »
I remember sitting down next to Bud after lunch at one of his Civil War Weekends at Virginia Tech. We chatted for a few minutes, and he signed my copy of his biography of Stonewall Jackson. He later reviewed a couple of chapters of my General Rufus Barringer biography and made helpful comments. I was just spellbound during his talk about his biography of Jackson. I enjoyed being with him at quite a few of those Civil War Weekends. He was truly a gentleman and will be missed.
As a child I remember listening to Dr. Robertson’s Civil War series on the local public radio station, fueling my growing love of the Civil War and Virginia history. When I met Dr. Robertson at a lecture at the Homestead Resort when I was 13 I told him that I wanted to be as good of a historian as him when I grew up. One of the reasons I came to Virginia Tech upon graduation was because he was here. As a Virginia Tech student I was fortunate to be one of his students, taking his Civil War classes during… Read more »
As Past President of the Atlanta Civil War Round Table I was blessed to know Bud. Always the Gentleman, his vast knowledge of the Civil War was freely given to all. He is in every respect a Great American. He will be greatly missed here in Atlanta. With Greatest Respect, Emmett Hall
Bud was a dearly loved part of our Civil War Cruises on the steamboats of the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. His Civil War church service was inspiring! He was one of my heroes!
Thank you for the many years of outstanding scholarship! Rest In Peace, Bud.
It is sad to lose any one of note but to lose a true historian in this time of historical trouble is a disaster. I live in England and am a American civil war reenactor so did not know Dr Bud only from his books. my condolences and prayers go out to his family.
Dr. Robertson was not only one of my professors while I was a student at Virginia Tech, but he also became a dear friend after I graduated. He was always genuine whenever he would ask how I and my family were doing whenever we saw each other or spoke on the phone. As my professor of Civil War history at Virginia Tech, it was obvious how much he cared equally about the subject and his students. There are also many occasions when I was in his presence that I will always remember fondly. I admired him greatly because he was… Read more »
Dr. Robertson was one of my favorite people that I was fortunate enough to know in my life. Several years ago, as I was serving as the chapter president of the Southwest Virginia chapter of the Tech Alumni Association, Dr Bud so graciously agreed to come to our area for several speaking engagements. Because of that, many of us became aquatinted with him. Not only did we get to know him, he became endeared to us. The one thing that I always said about him was that he was the only person that I ever knew that could have an… Read more »
As a high school student, I self-selected to read Dr. Robertson’s 900 page biography of Stonewall Jackson strictly because I had heard he was an incredible Virginia Tech professor. Little did I know at that point that I would enroll as a history major here. His storytelling ability amazed me in high school, and I knew I wanted the chance to take his class before he retired. I had my advisor drop one of my classes at orientation the summer before my freshmen year to make sure that happened. After getting over the shock of my very first college class… Read more »
During my 30 years as a communicator in University Relations at Virginia Tech, I got to know Bud Robertson because I love history. I had always wanted to take one of his classes but my work schedule was perpetually too busy. I have every one of his books, which he signed personally. He wrote the foreword for the last of my books on Virginia, which focused on the Civil War. While he was a consummate scholar, he was also one of the most gracious persons I have known and a legend in every way. What an honor to have known… Read more »
The Alumni Association was honored that Bud Robertson held one of its coveted Alumni Distinguished Professorships, appointed some 20 years after this university-wide program was originally established. During that time and even in his retirement, he spoke at well over 100 alumni chapter, reunion, and other alumni events. On each occasion, his wit, captivating style, and glimpses into history were powerful proof of his brilliance as a celebrated historian, his love for Virginia Tech, and his endearment to our alumni as a university treasure.”