But on Friday, speaking during a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, McDonnell announced that he would declare next April "Civil War in Virginia" month.
"My major and unacceptable omission of slavery disappointed and hurt a lot of people--myself included," he said, according to the Washington Post.
"One hundred and fifty years is long enough for Virginia to fight the Civil War," he said.
Confederate History Month is recognized by a handful of states, mostly at the urging of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group devoted to "preserving the history and legacy" of Confederate soldiers.
Brag Bowling, the commander of the Virginia division, is not pleased with McDonnell's decision.
"Our organization is terribly disappointed by this action," Bowling told TPMmuckraker. "He succumbed to his critics, people who don't support him anyway. And the vast majority of citizens of Virginia support Confederate History Month."
He said he had spoken with the governor's office and told them the same thing. He said "Civil War In Virginia Month" is a poor substitute.
"Nobody's ever been able to reason with me and tell me why we're honoring Yankees in Virginia," Bowling said. "The only northerners in Virginia were the ones that came to Virginia and killed thousands of Virginia citizens when they invaded."
He also defended against the charges of racism.
"There was nothing racist about Confederate History Month. It was honoring Confederate soldiers who fought and died for their state," he said, adding that the Sons will continue celebrating the month privately.