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Museums Offer Two Civil War Views

September 10, 2007
By NATASHA ROBINSON Associated Press Writer

RICHMOND, Va. — More than 140 years after Civil War cannons fell silent, two museums in Richmond are offering very different views of the war between the states.


The century-old Museum of the Confederacy offers a more single-minded approach to the war. Red, white and blue battle flags from different Confederate troops wave from the ceiling. Three levels of exhibits feature bullet-riddled uniforms, blood-spattered letters from dying soldiers and maps generals once used to lead their men. Located in downtown Richmond, the museum bills itself as home to the world’s largest collection of Confederate artifacts.


At the upstart American Civil War Center, which opened just nine months ago, visitors will find a mixture of old shackles that were once chained to slaves and musty uniforms amid modern touches. Four television displays offer presentations throughout the museum, proposing thinking points, while introducing perspectives from the Union, Confederacy and blacks.


Waite Rawls is president of the Museum of the Confederacy and offers no apologies for its approach, which he says inspires debate. “Because of its beginnings, it’s completely devoted to the Confederacy,” Rawls said.


Founders of the American Civil War Center are stressing a broader, less Confederate-centric approach by focusing on how the Civil War affected people’s lives.


“This is not just another Civil War museum,” said Alexander Wise, consultant to the museum.


Calvin Holloway came from Raleigh, N.C., to visit the Museum of the Confederacy recently and thought it presented a great learning opportunity for his children. He said most people have focused on slavery as the primary cause of the Civil War, while Holloway said economic forces were more at play.


“The South was getting a lot of push from the northern industry and I think it was less about race than it was made out to be,” Holloway said.


Portraits and slave auction signs explain how land, geography and slavery played a role in the Confederacy — and eventually split Virginia into two states — West Virginia and Virginia.


Visitors to the American Civil War Center, located in a Civil War-era artillery factory, say its approach is also eye-opening.


Roberta Herron of Minneapolis said she felt tricked by history books she read growing up in the 1960s.


“I was always raised to believe that the north had always intended to free the slaves and, as you go through here, you realize that wasn’t the case — that it was almost by accident that it happened,” said Herron.


Abraham Lincoln and many others are quoted on several ceiling-to-floor banners. Along the stairwell of the two-level exhibit, a “wall of faces” shows stone-faced soldiers and civilians, both black and white, all affected by the war.


The museum also has a display area where children can play with period toys and write letters to fictional soldiers.


The Museum of the Confederacy stands near the collection’s original home, the White House of the Confederacy, where visitors can see how Jefferson Davis, the Confederacy’s president, and his family lived.


But that perk may be short-lived since the museum is looking to relocate and expand, Rawls said.


Davis fled Richmond on the advice of Gen. Robert E. Lee, a week before Lee’s surrender.


A century and a half later, the different perspectives of the Museum of the Confederacy and the American Civil War Museum show that the origins and effects of the war continue to inspire debate.

Article Photos

A fish
sculpture with
paintings related to the Confederacy adorns the entrance to the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Va. The museum bills itself as home to the world’s largest
collection of Confederate artifacts. - AP Photos

Fact Box

“This is not just another Civil War museum.”
Alexander Wise, consultant to the museum

 
 

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