Wednesday, September 05, 2007

News: Richmond's Museum of the Confederacy Migrates to Appomattox Courthouse and Chancellorsville National Battlefield Parks

Appomattox Picked As One Of Three Sites For Confederate Museum, Janet Caggiano, Media General News Service, September 5, 2007

The Museum of the Confederacy has found a new home for the world’s largest collection of Civil War artifacts. Make that homes.

Three Virginia localities will serve as a museum “system,” replacing the single museum that has stood at 12th and East Clay streets since 1976. Officials Tuesday announced two of those sites - the Appomattox Court House National Park and the Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitor Center near Fredericksburg.

(Appomattox Court House National Historical Park historian Patrick Schroeder says the surrender grounds will not receive any of the artifacts from the Museum of the Confederacy. Schroeder said that a smaller “satellite museum” will be built in Appomattox, but will in no way be affiliated with the park. It is unclear whether the satellite museum will be located in the county or town. Appomattox County and town officials could not be reached for comment.)

The location of the third site is likely to be announced by the end of the month. Other national battlefield sites in the state include Petersburg and Manassas.
The museum headquarters, including the library and research center, collections storage and administration, will remain in Richmond. The White House of the Confederacy, the home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis during the Civil War, will also stay put. “If our mission is to use our artifacts to educate the public about the Civil War and the Confederacy, man are we going to accomplish that so much better because we are going to have more on view and more visitors,” said Waite Rawls, the museum’s president and CEO. “We are taking the artifacts back to where they were made famous.”

Plans call for the construction of an 8,000-square-foot museum at each site, with about 5,000 square feet of exhibit space. That adds up to 15,000 square feet of exhibit space - more than twice the space the museum has now. Each museum will also house a gift shop, educational rooms and offices. “The idea of combining artifacts with battlefields will bring new life to both,” said Jim Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Preservation Trust. “It will provide visitors a glimpse into the stories of the war, which is the most defining conflict in American history.”

The project will cost about $15 million, Rawls said, or $5 million per site. The museum will begin a capital campaign, and Rawls is hoping for local, state and federal funding. “In this case, we will be building one (museum) while raising money for the second,” he said. “We will move into them gradually so we can spread it out logistically and financially.” The move won’t come until 2011, the beginning of the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War.

“After three years of hard work involving a state study commission, a peer review study and a large number of volunteer experts, the board feels that a system of museum sites is the best way to accomplish our central mission of using artifacts to educate the public about the Civil War and the Confederacy,” said Carlton Moffatt Jr., chairman of the museum’s board of trustees. “The prospect is very exciting.”

The museum is relocating its collection to escape the sprawling medical campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. Visitation has been falling for years, from about 92,000 in the early 1990s to 44,000 in the last budget year. “We are focused on taking our collection to the visitor, rather than trying to get the visitor to come to us,” Rawls said. “(These sites) hold great war-time significance. They have strong visitation numbers and name recognition.”

The May 1-5, 1863, Battle of Chancellorsville is known as Gen. Robert E. Lee’s greatest victory. The visitor center there contains exhibits, a 22-minute movie and bookstore, walking trails and a 7-mile driving tour. Chancellorsville, which attracts about 47,000 visitors a year, is one of four Civil War battlefields near Fredericksburg run by the National Park Service. The four battlefields draw about 1.8 million visitors a year.

Each site, which will employ 10 to 15 people, will exhibit artifacts relevant to that area. Appomattox, for example, will display Lee’s surrender uniform and sword, the clothes Jefferson Davis was wearing at the time of his capture and some of the flags surrendered. The Chancellorsville site will showcase a letter written by a dying soldier, a painting depicting the last meeting between Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and J.EB. Stuart’s personal effects. “Our big asset is this unbelievable collection,” Rawls said. “The question has been how to get it to work for itself.”

Janet Caggiano is a staff writer at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Dave Thompson of The News & Advance contributed to this report.

No comments: