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Civil War Sesquicentennial

In the Crossfire: Richmond's Civil War Sites

A Step Back in Time:

Entryway to the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond*

Richmond’s Civil War Heritage

By Roberta Sandler

From the distant thunder of angry cannons to a landscape that turned crimson with the blood of fallen soldiers, Virginia percolates with Civil War history. Perhaps nowhere is that heritage better preserved and presented than in Richmond, VA, Capital of the Confederacy.

If you’re a Civil War buff or a visitor who simply wants to learn more, Richmond is your historical jackpot. The city’s museums, battlefields and cemeteries are imbedded with poignant, courageous and sometimes startling stories.

Attraction Action

For a close-up look at Richmond’s Civil War heritage, put these attractions on your must-see list.

The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar (804-780-1865 or www.tredegar.org), 500 Tredegar St., has a history of its own. The former Tredegar Iron Works and Gun Foundry, which produced ammunition, and horse and mule shoes for the Confederacy, was the center’s original occupant.

At its heart is a permanent, 10,000-square-foot exhibit, “In the Cause of Liberty.” It examines the causes, pathways and aftermath of the Civil War by offering Union, Confederate and African-American perspectives.

This ambitious exhibit fills two floors with interactive displays, first-person narratives and 150 items, including a pipe carved by a Connecticut POW at Richmond’s Libby Prison. Other artifacts include a knife attributed to the 54th Massachusetts Infantry (think of the movie "Glory"), a Confederate flag made from bridal clothes and a cap worn by Stonewall Jackson’s 4th Virginia Infantry.

Chimborazo Hospital opened in October 1861 and tended to more than 76,000 Confederate sick and wounded soldiers during the war. Modern for its time, it boasted about 80 wards capable of housing 3,000 patients simultaneously.

Artifacts and exhibits at the Chimborazo Medical Museum (804-226-1981 or www.nps.gov/rich), 3215 E. Broad St., help you understand the challenges the hospital faced and the innovations it implemented. These included using kitchen grease to make soap and hiring women — then a gutsy move — as ward attendants.

You’ll encounter grim stories here. The lack of antiseptic surgery caused repeated deaths. Dr. Hunter McGuire had the sorrowful task of amputating Stonewall Jackson’s arm. An uplifting story does occasionally break through, however. Dr. Isiah Cherry and his future wife, volunteer Harriet Larus, met and fell in love at Chimborazo Hospital.

Hollywood Cemetery

Located on a bluff above Richmond’s James River, Hollywood Cemetery (804-648-8501 or www.hollywoodcemetery.org), 412 S. Cherry St., features an abundance of decorative mortuary and wrought-iron art. Two U.S. presidents are buried here: James Monroe and John Tyler.

The cemetery is a shrine to Civil War history. A statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis overlooks Davis’ gravesite. There are 25 Confederate generals buried here, including J. E. B. Stuart and George Pickett, plus 18,000 Confederate soldiers who are commemorated with a 90-foot-high granite pyramid.

The Museum and White House of the Confederacy (804-649-1861 or www.moc.org), 1201 E. Clay St., possesses the world’s largest collection of Confederate flags.

The Museum and White House of the Confederacy in Richmond has a superb collection of Confederate flags.*  

J. E. B. Stuart’s plumed hat, Stonewall Jackson’s sword, Robert E. Lee’s coat and soldiers’ letters home are among the 5,000 artifacts and paintings that make you wish you had more time here.

Next door, a guided tour of the White House of the Confederacy grants you an intimate glimpse into the private life of Jefferson Davis. It relates how the temporary euphoria of his victories turned to heartbreak after his five-year-old son fell from the portico and died.

Civil War Soldiers

Pamplin Historical Park & the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier (877-PAMPLIN or 804-861-2408, or www.pamplinpark.org), 6125 Boydton Plank Rd., is located in nearby Petersburg.

Ulysses S. Grant’s northern troops marched through Richmond and crumbled Robert E. Lee’s Petersburg defenses on April 2, 1865. A week after this Petersburg Breakthrough, Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

The battlefield site, about 25 minutes south of Richmond, includes the Breakthrough Trail, plantation buildings, fortifications, costumed living history and the expansive National Museum of the Civil War Soldier.

In the museum, use an audio player to follow the war experiences of whichever soldier you choose. One exhibit will ignite your compassion for the citizens whose lives buckled during Petersburg’s nine-month siege.

Women were reduced to selling apples on the street and using sawdust to make coffee. Other exhibits testify to the horrors of prison camps and the African-American soldiers’ pride in their Union uniform.

If you’re a Civil War fan, Richmond is eye candy. If you’re not, Richmond is eye-opening. Either way, you’ll find yourself touched and haunted by these attractions, because they are windows into Richmond’s tumultuous and inspiring Civil War heritage.

Richmond Civil War Happenings

Ongoing: The Museum and White House of the Confederacy. “The Confederate Navy” exhibition will field documents, photographs and objects to tell the story of Confederate sailors, their ships and naval operations and tactics.  

Also, "Virginia and the Confederacy: A Quadricentennial Perspective" is an exhibit showcasing the Civil War as the pivotal event of Virginia's 400-year history.

June 23-24: Pamplin Historical Park & the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier. The 11th Annual Civil War Weekend will feature costumed living history interpreters, artillery demonstrations, re-enactments and storytelling.

June 25-29: Museum and White House of the Confederacy. The 13th Annual Teachers Institute will present “Robert E. Lee: His Life and Legacy.” Lectures, tours and discussions focus on Robert E. Lee (his statue is shown in Richmond below) as a man and as a general. The cost is $110.

Statue of Robert E. Lee*

Oct. 20-21: Pamplin Historical Park & the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier. During the 11th Annual Symposium “Infamous Episodes and Disastrous Endeavors of the Civil War,” authors and historians will discuss Civil War infamies and disasters.  – Roberta Sandler

Free Travel Stuff? 

Maps: Contact Virginia Civil War Trails (888-CIVIL-WAR or www.civilwartrails.org).

Visitors Guide: Contact the Richmond Visitors Center (888-RICHMOND or www.visit.richmond.com).

Roberta Sandler, a member of the Society of American Travel Writers, writes travel articles for newspapers and regional and lifestyle magazines. She has won several media awards. Her newest book is "Guide to Florida's Monuments and Memorials," to be published by University Press of Florida. A Florida resident, Sandler has family in Richmond and considers the city her second home. 

*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used with permission of the Virginia Tourism Corporation and the Richmond Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau. Please do not link to these photos or copy them.

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