The Museum Of The Confederacy—Appomattox Opens
By Scott C. Boyd
(May 2012 Civil War News)
APPOMATTOX, Va. — “Here it all ended. Here it all began,” historian James I. “Bud” Robertson said at the start of his keynote address at the grand opening of the Museum of the Confederacy-Appomattox. He explained that Appomattox represented both the effective end of the Civil War and the beginning of the country’s reunification.
“Here on Palm Sunday, 1865, two gentlemen basically declared, ‘In the name of God — this is enough,’” Robertson said of Generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant.
The March 31 ceremony began with a procession of Union and Confederate color guards escorting Grant and Lee on horseback up to the museum entrance.
The black Union reenactors who escorted Grant, portrayed by Larry Clowers, were with the 23rd U.S. Colored Troops. This unit was at Appomattox and was comprised of many former Virginia slaves.
The Confederate color guard escorting Lee, portrayed by David Palmer, was from the Maryland Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV). A Confederate reenacting unit, Co. G of the 11th Virginia Infantry, the Lynchburg Home Guard, also participated.
Following Robertson’s speech, flags were raised on 15 flagpoles on the Reunification Promenade in front of the museum.
Fourteen of them were state flags: 11 for the states which seceded from the Union and three for states which did not secede but offered significant support to the Confederacy — Missouri, Kentucky and Maryland.
The 15th flag was for the nation each of the states seceded from or helped fight, and the nation to which each state returned after the war, the United States.
The absence of a Confederate national flag in front of the museum was the source of some controversy. The SCV and the Virginia Flaggers group objected and tried, without success, to persuade the museum to add a Confederate flag.
Confederate flags are displayed inside the museum. Museum CEO S. Waite Rawls has repeatedly explained the symbolism and reasoning for the flags: The nation of the Confederate States of America did not leave or rejoin the United States. Rather, individual states left the Union, and then returned after the war.
The SCV General Executive Council passed a resolution on March 26 condemning the museum for not having a Confederate flag outside and urging SCV members to boycott the opening ceremony.
SCV Commander-in-Chief Michael Givens also tried without success to persuade Appomattox town and county government officials to convince Rawls to change his mind on the flag.
During Robertson’s speech, a small plane towed a banner with a Confederate flag and the words: “Reunification by bayonet — SCV 1896.” The SCV was founded in 1896. The flyover was reportedly financed by the SCV and Virginia Flaggers.
The Virginia Flaggers were across the street from the museum on opening day, waving Confederate flags, some holding signs saying “Cultural Bigots Destroying Southern Heritage” and “Gen. Grant, Yankee Slave Owner.” Leader Susan Hathaway said in her blog that 89 people stood with the flaggers at some point during the day.
Museum spokesman Sam Craghead said that attendance for the entire weekend was around 2,500.
Media representatives who took a private tour two days before the opening found an impressive, high-tech 11,700-square-foot facility with 5,000-square-feet of exhibit space offering a sophisticated presentation of a well-thought-out story.
Along with conventional exhibits, there are videos to watch and audio programs to enjoy. An interactive computer workstation lets visitors design their own Confederate flag, according to the limitations set by the Confederate Congress. The computer evaluates the end result and prints a paper copy as a souvenir.
The Appomattox site is the second of a system of four museums that the Museum of the Confederacy, based in Richmond, plans for Virginia. The other two will be somewhere in the Fredericksburg and Hampton Roads areas.
As museum historian John Coski explained, using a baseball metaphor, “We have more bench strength than any other museum with this subject. We can open four major sites and still have more things to show.”
He said, “We want each site to give the essence of the whole story.” In addition to providing an overview of the war, each museum will give in-depth specifics about the Civil War history of the region where it is located.
One of the two main exhibit galleries in Appomattox is permanent, the other temporary. The museum also has classrooms, conference rooms and a gift shop and will host talks and demonstrations.
The first thing the visitor sees upon entering the permanent gallery is the iconic sword General Lee had at Appomattox, along with a life-size image of a photo of the general wearing that same sword.
“Nothing announces to you more what this museum is than to walk in and see Lee’s sword,” Coski said.
On the wall beside the sword is a quote from Lee: “Save in defense of my native state, I never desire again to draw my sword.”
Lee wrote that in the April 20, 1861, letter resigning his commission in the U.S. Army. Around the corner, and below a photo of him before the war, is the draft of that very letter.
Also displayed are the coat and gloves Lee wore at Appomattox.
The permanent gallery provides an overview of the reaction to the election of 1860, secession, the formation of the Confederacy, the beginning of the war and its early course.
In greater detail, the last year of the war is explored to show how the two great armies ended up at Appomattox.
The surrender is explained and illustrated with numerous uniforms and flags present at Appomattox.
One case has glass-covered drawers which slide out to show half a dozen battle flags furled at Appomattox. A vertical case nearby has a group of stark wooden flagpoles from the surrender, minus their flags.
Exhibits discuss other topics, such as the contentious issue of black Confederate soldiers, which is covered with a display explaining how slaves were only authorized to be armed as soldiers in the very last month of the war.
Unlike the 180,000 black Union soldiers, the Confederates had only 100 or so slaves officially armed as soldiers, drilling in the streets of Richmond just prior to the fall of the city, according to the exhibit.
Nearby artifacts include a February 1865 “Amendment to the Negro Soldier Bill” and a March 1865 resolution from the North Carolina legislature protesting the arming of slaves for any reason.
A February 1865 resolution from a meeting of soldiers in several Kentucky regiments strikes the opposite tone and urges the government to arm slaves.
The postwar period is illustrated with veterans’ ribbons and medals, Lee’s death mask and a wall of photos to show the subsequent fate of a variety of Americans involved in the war.
The temporary exhibit gallery currently shows the many ways the Confederate flag has been used in American popular culture. There are the silly, irreverent things like Confederate flag swimming trunks, a “Dukes of Hazzard” serving tray, and even “Captain Confederacy” superhero comic books.
Then there are the more disturbing images, like a mob of angry whites waving the Confederate flag while yelling at black students trying to attend a segregated Southern public school in the 1950s.
Only 0.2 miles from the boundary of Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, the museum is located at 159 Horseshoe Rd. on 8.1 acres at the northeast corner of the junction of Routes 24 and 460. Ample free parking is available.
The museum is open daily from 10to 5. Call (855) 649-1861 for more information. The Museum of the Confederacy’s website is www.moc.org