My Trip to Appomattox (part two)

(For part one, see here)

Following lunch in Appomattox, we headed to the brand new Museum of the Confederacy’s Appomattox facility.  It’s only appropriate to note that I visited it with Jeff Davis (really) and his wife, Janet (not Varina).  The museum is west of the Appomattox Court House NHS, on the northeast corner of the junction of Virginia State Route 24 and US 460.

The building largely stands alone … the vegetation has not really taken, and one hopes that down the road the building will be framed by more trees.


As you walk to the entrance you see fifteen flags …. fourteen state flags (representing the states that contributed soldiers to the Confederacy) as well as the current United States national colors.  Along the brick roadway you see several paved stone rectangles … each commemorating an event, a state, or a person (and each offering a donor opportunity).  Here’s one example:

I looked westward in vain to see some people who have taken a great interest in the museum.  Perhaps one day they’ll contribute a marker outlining their stand.  For now, however, the hillside they occupied is bare.

The real action is inside the building.  As you enter the museum, you encounter the sword Robert E. Lee wore when he surrendered his army to Grant.  Elsewhere there are various uniforms (including the uniform coat Lee wore that fateful Palm Sunday) as well as a good number of Confederate flags.  Clearly the Museum of the Confederacy has taken advantage of the opportunity to display its holdings.  Nearly half of the walking area addresses the retreat from Richmond and the pursuit to Appomattox, the surrender, and the postwar period, including a very interesting display about Appomattox itself, featuring a discussion of whether to construct a rather large monument near the McLean House in the 1930s (thankfully, this was not done).

The museum walks a fine line throughout its displays.  The MOC does not shy away from discussing slavery, secession, and the Confederacy, including the last-gasp effort to enroll slaves in Confederate ranks as combat soldiers.  It addresses the home front as well as the experience of the common soldier, balancing that with the artifacts of far more prominent Confederates.  Yet, for those who like uniforms, weapons, and flags, there’s much to see as well.  The number (and condition) of the various Confederate flags on display (including several that are stored in a flag cabinet, where one has to pull out a drawer to see the flag up close) is impressive.  Touch-screen displays allow one to design one’s own Confederate national flag (with examples from the period) and to look at images of the flags surrendered at Appomattox.  Currently the museum has a special exhibit on how the Confederate flag has been used throughout the last 150 years that has its moments of humor (and I’d argue that RuPaul would feel right at home in that exhibit, although perhaps a life-size image was a tad too much).

If you are interested in an introduction to the history of the Confederacy, this is one place to start.  It manages to address the concerns of various audiences.  Yes, there are an abundance of artifacts; yes, the role of slavery is given due attention; yes, we learn something about the last days of the Army of Northern Virginia, its surrender, and a brief look at events in the last 150 years that does not shy away from areas of controversy.  Over time, I’m sure the museum will develop its displays as it discovers different ways to tell the stories it wants to tell and to allow visitors to wrestle with several key questions without overpowering them with a particular point of view.



10 thoughts on “My Trip to Appomattox (part two)

  1. wgdavis May 20, 2012 / 8:13 pm

    That Yankees cap keeps showing up in the strangest places.
    Do I HAVE to call her Varina, now?

  2. wgdavis May 20, 2012 / 8:22 pm

    On a more serious note, the Museum was pretty fascinating. Needs to be filled out some, but lots of good stuff there, including an honest look at Slavery.

    That said, I thought it was far to Virginia-centric. I understand it is in Virginia where the Army of Northern Virginia surrendered, but it IS the Museum of the Confederacy, not the Museum of the ANV.

    Longstreet is not mentioned anywhere, and has two images in a collage slide show in the final room. Not much on battles and campaigns elsewhere, except for Vicksburg, although the battle colors displayed were from various states’ units.

    My thinking is that if you are going to call it and sell it as the Museum of the Confederacy, then back off the Virginia displays and increase some from other states and other theaters. As it is, it comes across as elitist and Virginia-centric as the ANV was under Lee.

    The staff were great and helpful, and very friendly, although being met at the door by a greeter had me thinking this was a WalMart in disguise at first.

  3. John Cummings May 21, 2012 / 4:09 am

    The Appomattox MOC is a satellite and not intended to cover the entire story which is still presented in Richmond. What the Appomattox location offers is entirely appropriate for this focus. Other locations are in their long range plan including the Fredericksburg area and Hampton Roads.

    • Brooks D. Simpson May 21, 2012 / 7:55 am

      In fact, the displays start with the election of 1860, which suggests that the museum tries to cover the entire conflict while giving emphasis to the 1864-65 period. So I would argue that the museum is trying to do several things at once.

    • Lyle Smith May 21, 2012 / 11:12 am

      Maybe a really long-term goal should be to open up satellite museums in every state that contributed soldiers and resources to the Confederacy. Or try and bring in the museums around the South that already exist.

    • wgdavis May 21, 2012 / 2:51 pm

      But why not in Atlanta? Or Chattanooga? Or in North Carolina, who’s sons achieved as much glory as those of Virginia and other states, perhaps even a touch more, at least in some battles?

      Barely a whisper about such battles as Chickamauga, Shiloh, Atlanta, but, oddly, Bentonville got some play…perhaps because it was a tactical success…but so was Chickamauga.

      I did not see anywhere any explanation of the target of the display, or what future plans may be.

      I have not seen the Richmond museum [perhaps on another visit, though I understand it can be difficult to get to]. I can imagine there is much there about the government itself, and what conditions in wartime Richmond were like. That makes sense. But even there, they have to be even handed about representing the other states if they are going to call it the Museum of the Confederacy.

  4. Rob Baker May 21, 2012 / 11:30 am

    Brooks did you happen to see Cleburne’s coat?

    • Brooks D. Simpson May 21, 2012 / 11:36 am

      Yes. It was in poor shape compared to other coats on display. Indeed, the whole exhibit could have been called ‘Shades of Gray’ given all the differences in uniform color.

      • Rob Baker May 21, 2012 / 1:58 pm

        I knew it was rather ‘moth ravaged.’ I am sort of a Cleburne freak. Grew up in Ringgold so I guess its expected.

        • wgdavis May 23, 2012 / 4:28 pm

          It is interesting to note that the uniform coats were almost exclusively worn by generally slender men — very slender. Don’t know if that was the result of late war tailoring or just a strange fact that so many were of almost diminutive stature. I’ve seen Jefferson Davis’ smoking jacket at the MOLLUS Museum in Philadelphia and he was extremely slender as well.

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