As his three first three months serving as the executive director of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust come to a close, Ben Brockenbrough is starting to settle into his new position.
As executive director, Brockenbrough is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the local battlefield preservation organization. His duties include making solicitations; collecting and accounting for donations; applying for grants; and identifying potential acquisition targets.
Brockenbrough formerly served as the Richmond Battlefield Association president. There, he worked in the preservation and acquisition of historic sites, such as Beaver Dam Creek Battlefield and Glendale Battlefield.
Before his professional life, Brockenbrough’s upbringing in Richmond led to his early interest in history. He said that his experiences during segregated education have allowed for his unique and personal perspectives on our nation’s past.
“I was going through my grade school and high school years at the height of court-ordered desegregation,” Brockenbrough said. “I was probably in fourth grade before I had a black classmate. Then, in my high school years, there was courtrdered busing.”
Brockenbrough said that these experiences gave him a different perspective on raceelated issues. Not only do these experiences tie into his interpretation of a war sparked by issues of race, but also his standpoints on these ongoing issues.
“In Richmond, for a long time, it was very difficult to have any discussion about our civic history,” Brockenbrough said. “In very recent years, Virginians have done better about acknowledging slavery and opening up about discussions of the war. I’m very encouraged by what I see these days—it’s an openness I never thought I would see.”
Brockenbrough hopes to bring both his personal and professional experiences in Richmond to his new position for CVBT. Likewise, with his recent change in employment came a new roster of challenges to overcome, which he has greeted with maximum positivity.
“Coming here, I’ve got a new organization’s systems and procedure to become familiar with,” Brockenbrough said. “There is new software and accounting systems to learn—and new personalities in the board, too. A lot of your success in a non-profit organization is going to be determined by how well you learn the personalities of your board members.
The Central Virginia Battlefields Trust aims to explore the battlegrounds in an effort to pin-point where each individual unit fought. If the land is significant, the Trust will attempt to preserve the grounds—either through outright purchase or preservation easements. The Trust is dedicated to preserving these historic landscapes in an effort to provide the public with educational opportunities they might not otherwise have.
“Students of history can go out, stand on the ground where something happened, perhaps read or listen to a first-hand account of somebody who was there during the battle, and look up and see exactly what they’re describing,” Brockenbrough said.
Although the Trust has no imminent land transactions in process, Brockenbrough is well equipped to deal with any upcoming endeavors, given his past service.
Along with his weekly duties, Brockenbrough has begun planning the Trust’s annual meeting—which is scheduled for May 22-24. The meeting aims to review preservation efforts from the past year, discuss future initiatives, and hold elections for the board of directors. It will allow for members to address topics they may feel strongly about.
The event will also feature three days of guided battlefield tours. Donald Pfanz will be leading Friday’s tour, followed by Robert Krick overseeing Saturday’s tours. These first two days will focus on the historic grounds and the events that took place there. In contrast, Jim Pates and Mike Greenfield will be leading Sunday’s tours—focusing on the logistics of battlefield preservation.
The annual banquet will take place Friday night, along with guest speaker William C. Davis. Davis will speak about his latest work, Crucible of Command: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee–The War They Fought, the Peace They Forged.
According to Brockenbrough, CVBT expects around 100 attendees over the course of the weekend.
While Brockenbrough appears to be intrigued by the tasks ahead of him, he is equally as rewarded in his ability to carry out his love for history—specifically of the Civil War.
“Civil War history surrounds us so much in this part of the world,” Brockenbrough said. “Knowing what has gone on in areas that you pass through each day gives so much more texture to your life.”