Museum of the Confederacy

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Museum of the Confederacy
Museum of the confederacy VOA.jpg
Established 1896
Type History museum
Website http://www.moc.org/

The Museum of the Confederacy is located in Richmond, Virginia. The museum includes the former White House of the Confederacy and maintains a comprehensive collection of artifacts, manuscripts, Confederate imprints (books and pamphlets), and photographs from the Confederate States of America and the American Civil War (1861–1865).

In November 2013, the museum's governance was merged with the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar.[1] In January 2014, it was announced that the new combined institution would be called the American Civil War Museum.[2]

White House of the Confederacy[edit]

White House of the Confederacy, 1865, Library of Congress

The White House of the Confederacy is a gray stuccoed neoclassical mansion built in 1818 by John Brockenbrough, who was president of the Bank of Virginia. Designed by Robert Mills, Brockenbrough’s private residence was built in early nineteenth century on East Clay Street in Richmond's affluent Shockoe Hill neighborhood (later known as the Court End District), and was two blocks north of the Virginia State Capitol.

President of the Confederate States of America Jefferson Davis, his wife Varina, and their children moved into the house in August 1861, and lived there for the remainder of the war. President Davis maintained an at-home office on the second floor of the White House due to poor health.

The house was abandoned during the evacuation of Richmond on April 2, 1865. Within twelve hours, soldiers from Major General Godfrey Weitzel’s XVIII Corps seized the former Confederate White House, intact. During his tour of Richmond, President Abraham Lincoln, visited Davis' former residence, and it was where Union officers held a number of meetings with local officials in the aftermath. During Reconstruction, the White House of the Confederacy served as the headquarters for Military District Number One (Virginia), and was occasionally used as the residence of the commanding officer of the Department of Virginia.

When the city announced its plans to demolish the building to make way for a more modern school building in 1890, the Confederate Memorial Literary Society was formed with the sole purpose of saving the White House from destruction.

History of the Museum[edit]

Opened as the Confederate Museum on February 22, 1896, it was housed for many years in the former White House of the Confederacy. The Museum of the Confederacy was founded by influential Richmond society ladies, starting with Isabel Maury who was later joined by Ann Crenshaw Grant, and Isobel Stewart Bryan. Isabel Maury was the founder of the Museum of the Confederacy but she also was the first Regent of the Confederate Memorial Literary Society (CMLS). The Isabel Maury Planned Giving Society continues the work of Mrs. Isabel Maury, daughter of Robert Henry Maury, who, with the Relics Committee, was instrumental in securing much of the Museum's current collection.

Mrs. Isabel Maury was a cousin to Matthew Fontaine Maury, the naval officer and scientist credited as the father of modern oceanography. Matthew Fontaine Maury lived in Robert Henry Maury's house in the early part of the American Civil War and would walk the two blocks to the White House of the Confederacy on a daily basis. It was in this house that Matthew Fontaine Maury first worked with burning underwater fuses for torpedoes in a tub of water. Today there are old and new plaques on the building that testify to this. Mrs. Grant was the sister of Lewis Crenshaw, who owned the house just prior to the war, and was married to James Grant[disambiguation needed], a wealthy tobacconist who also lived within the neighborhood. Mrs. Bryan was the wife of Joseph Bryan, a wealthy businessman and publisher, whose family is still associated with the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

By the centennial anniversary of the Civil War, the museum's governing board determined that it wanted to see the museum evolve from a shrine to a more modern museum. In 1963, the CMLS hired its first museum professional as the executive director, and in 1970, changed the name of the institution to "The Museum of the Confederacy."

The museum houses the largest and/or most comprehensive collection of artifacts, personal effects, and other memoriabilia related to the Confederacy. Among the thousands of other important pieces found there are items owned by Jefferson Davis, Robert Edward Lee, Joseph E. Johnston, John Bell Hood, Thomas Jonathan Jackson, Simon Bolivar Buckner, J.E.B. Stuart, Joseph Wheeler, Wade Hampton, Lewis Armistead, and Raphael Semmes. The provisional Confederate Constitution and the Great Seal of the Confederacy are also housed there.

Of particular note is the museum's collection of over 500 original, wartime, battle flags that were carried by the Confederate Army. Some of the flags were donated by veterans in the early years of the museum. Others, regimental flags that were captured during the war that were originally housed in the archives of the U.S. War Department, were formally transferred to the museum either by Act of the U.S. Congress or by Act of the Virginia General Assembly, depending on the level of unit identification of the flag.

Anchor of the CSS Virginia

A newer building to better preserve and exhibit the museum's collections was built and opened in 1976 immediately adjacent to the White House, on its remaining 3/4 acre (3,000 m²) property. The anchor of the first ironclad warship, CSS Virginia which fought the USS Monitor in the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862, is prominently displayed in front of the Museum.

The White House was closed in 1976, to be fully restored to its wartime appearance. The restoration project was completed in 1988, gaining high marks from the preservation community for its accuracy and richness of detail. Reopened for public tours in June of that year, the White House featured extensive reproduction wall coverings and draperies, as well as significant numbers of original White House furnishings from the Civil War period.

Since the museum opened in 1896, it has been visited by roughly five million visitors from all over the world. Among the many world leaders who have visited the museum are U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, British Prime Ministers David Lloyd George and Margaret Thatcher, and the leader of the 2006 military coup in Thailand, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin. It is also a popular attraction for many celebrities who visit Richmond, including actors Robert Duvall and Sam Neill, musicians from Bob Dylan to The Black Crowes, and sports figures such as two-time Daytona 500 champion driver Sterling Marlin and NASCAR two-time Sprint Cup champion crew chief and current NASCAR on Fox commentator Jeff Hammond (who conducted the Marlin interview in 2002 in the museum; Marlin is a Civil War buff), among others.

Notable past and present exhibitions include: The Confederate Years: Battles, Leaders, and Soldiers, 1861–1865; Women in Mourning; Before Freedom Came: African-American Life in the Antebellum South; Embattled Emblem: The Army of Northern Virginia Battle Flag, 1861 – Present; A Woman’s War: Southern Women, Civil War, and the Confederate Legacy; R. E. Lee: The Exhibition; The Confederate Navy; and Virginia and the Confederacy: A Quadricentennial Perspective.

Location near Virginia State Capitol[edit]

The museum and White House of the Confederacy are located two blocks north of the Virginia State Capitol, and within walking distance of several other museums and historic sites, including the Executive Mansion of Virginia, Monumental Church, St. Paul's Church, John Marshall House (a Preservation Virginia property), and the John Wickham House (Valentine Richmond History Center). It is, however, completely surrounded by and its view is cut off from those sites by the VCU Medical Center (formerly the Medical College of Virginia hospitals) of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). The neighboring and expanding hi-rise medical facilities stirred debate in 2005 about the possible relocation of the Museum and the historic White House building. In 2006, museum officials announced that the White House of the Confederacy, a National Historic Landmark (1963) and Virginia Historic Landmark (1966), will not be moved.

Critics of the Museum of the Confederacy's leadership in recent decades note that it had owned the very land on which the new hospital construction is taking place, and allege that the museum sold it to VCU to help finance the very museum building now purportedly threatened by the hospital's expansion on the site.

In fact, the museum owned part of property in question between 1894 and 1933. The Commonwealth of Virginia informed the museum, in 1933, of its intent to build a steam plant on part of the property to supply heat throughout the small, adjacent, medical school campus and to Capitol Square. The 1930s-era museum had little recourse but to give up the land to the state - its only mitigation being that it could acquire steam from the new plant. At that time, no hospital expansion plans were available to the public that foreshadowed any danger to the fabric of the Court End/Shockoe Hill neighborhood. Indeed, the first significant hospital expansion (A.D. Williams Clinic and West Hospital) was not built until 1941, and the majority of the modern hospital buildings were not built until the late 1970s. No evidence supports the allegation that the museum sold any of its property to pay for its current building.

Plans for a future museum system[edit]

The museum announced plans in September 2007 to build a system of new museum sites around the state of Virginia. Citing diminishing returns on visitation to the original site, the concept for the "Museum of the Confederacy System" is to exhibit its vast collections in strategically located, high-traffic, tourist destinations that are also significant Civil War sites. The plans are to build museums in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, near the Chancellorsville Battlefield and in Hampton, Virginia, “inside the moat” at Fort Monroe. The White House of the Confederacy will remain in the care of the museum, and will be interpreted at its current site. The museum plans to maintain a corporate headquarters and its research and preservation facility in Richmond, perhaps at the current site of the museum. While museum officials recognize that the plan for implementing this new initiative is aggressive, they plan to complete the bulk of it during the sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary of the Civil War, between 2011 and 2015.

The first satellite museum was opened March 31, 2012, in Appomattox, Virginia. The museum was met with positive reception from both locals and tourists, and has been a great asset to the town of Appomattox. The museum houses Robert E. Lee's sword, his uniform that he wore to the surrender in Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, his death mask, and various other artifacts belonging to both famous and common soldiers.[3]

Connections to scholars[edit]

Several prominent Civil War historians have had connections to the museum. Douglas Southall Freeman, the biographer of George Washington and Robert E. Lee, started his career at the museum. William C. "Jack" Davis, Emory M. Thomas, and Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust have all done research there. James I. Robertson, Jr., of Virginia Tech, Edwin C. Bearss, Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service, and William J. Cooper of LSU, have each served as members of the museum’s governing board.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Calos, Katherine (November 17, 2013). "Civil War center, Confederacy museum join forces". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved 14 March 2014. 
  2. ^ Boyd, Scott C. (February–March 2014). "‘American Civil War Museum’ Is The Name For Richmond Civil War Entity". Civil War News. Retrieved 14 March 2014. 
  3. ^ Museum of the Confederacy website: http://www.moc.org/visit-us?mode=appomattox

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]