Museum of the Confederacy offers window to history

Published 9:44 am Friday, October 19, 2012


Editor’s note: Southampton County native James D. “Archie” Howell submitted the following on the Museum of the Confederacy at U.S. 460 and state Highway 24 in Appomattox. He can be reached at


APPOMATTOX—While others stacked their rifles, ammunition and materials of war, one war-weary soldier wrapped his battle flag around his body beneath his clothing.

This was an act of rebellion and love; all battle flags were to be surrendered to the victors at Appomattox. Such an act, if discovered, would have dire consequences.

The flag, harbored (and hidden) by family, found its way to Civil War collections of the Museum of the Confederacy, Appomattox, to be displayed in a fitting setting, along with hundreds of other artifacts.

The permanent display opens with a three-person statue set, depicting a southern father and mother saying goodbye to a son. His hat is that of a soldier.

The mother is presenting the young soldier with a small book, maybe a symbolic Bible. It’s a touching artwork, full of devotion to God and country, full of the struggle between a call to duty and a call to family. It sets a proper mood for displays to follow.

The museum’s tale is told through intensely personal items of Civil War participants. Items displayed (to be called an artifact seems somewhat cold) were the personal possessions of a broad cross-section of Confederate soldiers.

Most belonged to officers; officers, generally, were from well to-do families, and when combat ended, those families preserved and protected what war-worn possessions the officer had left.

Field grade officer dress uniforms along with swords and cases, handguns, binoculars and map cases, with provenance provided by family and photographs, fill wonderfully illuminated display cases.

Personal hygiene and comfort items, shaving soap tins and personal mirrors, pipes, tobacco pouches, belt buckles and buttons fill corners and crevices, waiting to be discovered.

The museum pays respect to the issue of slavery, with records of sale and rental of slaves, but this is not a political museum. This is a museum of remembrance for the combatants, a reminder of the heavy price paid during armed conflict.

There is a stereopticon look at the ravages wrought on Southern cities. Hanging behind a large glass pane is a black mourning scarf, a vivid reminder of huge losses, both human and material.

Protected in pull-out drawers are battle flag remnants awaiting funds for restoration; along there are story boards with interactive features.

There’s an excellent introductory video; there’s the flag of the Columbia Rifles with Florida infantry. Solemnly standing alongside his picture is General Lee’s uniform. A few feet away a soldier’s kepi (hat), salvaged from the battle at Petersburg, is perched on a stand.

On that wall is a Zouave soldier; the Confederacy used several Zouave companies. Their colorful uniforms were a contrast to southern gray. The use of Zouaves by both sides is not widely known outside historian circles.

The Confederacy existed for a relatively short time as a governmental entity. Generally the period is from the time of South Carolina’s secession until the last hostilities, 1861-1865. The firing on Ft. Sumter began the hostilities, and the Army of Northern Virginia’s surrender at Appomattox began the cessation. Appomattox is a fitting location for the museum.

Soldiers from a number of states made up the Army of Northern Virginia, and possessions displayed include many from other states.

This is a masculine museum, and with few exceptions, I encourage ladies to find solace in the attractions of the town of Appomattox, permitting their male counterparts to roam the museum freely and enjoy its rich Southern heritage.

There’s a lot to see, so take the time and enjoy looking back into military life in the Confederacy.