The American Civil War Museum: A Very Short Review


I’ve lived in the Mid-Atlantic region all my life, and somehow have never done anything in Richmond but pass through it on my way to somewhere else. But I knew I ought to visit. The city was the capital of the Confederacy, and there are more American 19th century artifacts in their museums than anywhere else.

The predecessor to the American Civil War Museum was depressing, dark and large. It was filled with items donated by people who were clearing out their attics. There were serried ranks of glass cases holding sabers. There were personal items that used to be owned by Confederate generals. There was iconography about the Lost Cause. I knew it would be annoying to visit, and apparently so did many others.

So they rebuilt and rebooted, Marie Kondoing the collection so that now it’s balanced and has a clear narrative. Suddenly there’s the Union side of the story, and women, and black people. There’s Abraham Lincoln and the three Amendments to the Constitution that are the basis of our country today.

And from the mountains of items they’ve selected the ones with the most impact. The item at the top of this post is cast iron. It’s the cast of the hand of a slave. I can even tell you how it was probably done. You cast iron by pouring it into sand-filled molds or forms. Some slave working in the foundry pushed his hand into a pile of sand and slopped some molten iron into the hole. No one knows his name. This is all we have of him. But, reaching up, reaching out to us across time, how eloquent his hand is!

LincolnOne final picture, of myself sitting next to the statue of Lincoln and his son Tad. This commemorates the President’s visit to Richmond only a few days after it fell. (Click on that link and listen to the park ranger tell the story!) The white residents of Richmond stood silent, glaring. But the black people poured out into the street and cheered. I’m glad that Lincoln got to experience some of the good, out of a fearsome war. He was assassinated two weeks later.



About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.


The American Civil War Museum: A Very Short Review — 4 Comments

  1. I went to the old museum in 7th grade for a field trip in junior high. Depressing! I learned more about the War Between the States from watching “Gone with the Wind” than that disorganized mess. I’m glad the heart of the matter has been resurrected. This was an ugly time in our history, but needs to be remembered because it was so very ugly on all sides.

  2. The new museum is by the river at the Tredegar Iron Works. The old manufactory was semi-ruinous. So the museum built a large glass box over it. It’s amazing.