Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Remembering the men in gray and butternut

The Stars and Stripes, not Stars and Bars, flies at Confederate Memorial Hall.
One of New Orleans' lesser-known treasures (to visitors from the North, at any rate) is the little Civil War Museum at Confederate Memorial Hall on 929 Camp Street in the Warehouse District a block south of the St. Charles streetcar line.

It sits in the shadow of the huge National World War II Museum down the block. The Lady Friend and I having just one full day in New Orleans on this visit, we decided to skip the big place -- it reportedly takes a full day to explore -- and try the Civil War Museum instead.

The sign outside says "Civil War Museum," but inside it's really the Confederate Museum it has been since 1891. The place was renamed after Katrina shattered tourism to New Orleans in 2005, in the hope that visitors from the North would be less apt to turn away from symbols of the South's slave history. "You're not offended?" the lady at the door asked when we inquired about the name change.

No, we weren't, for we're not unreconstructed rebels with disdain for political correctness. Besides, the little brick building turned out to be a somber, even melancholy repository of human memories, not a vainglorious display of defiance. Whatever one might say about their cause, these soldiers, the museum seems to say, fought and died for what they believed in, and even if they lost the war, their courage should not go unnoticed. There's nothing celebratory about this museum, as there too often is in national shrines to victory.

Though it's the second largest Southern war museum in the country (the biggest is the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond), It's fairly small as such institutions go, with one large room and a corridor full of display cases of artifacts from 1861-1865. Some five thousand objects are on display, with 95,000 others stored for research at Tulane University.

Among the items on view: The personal belongings of Confederate President Jefferson Davis; the uniforms, sword and saddle of Gen. Braxton Bragg; the uniform of Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard; various swords, cannons and arms, and personal relics such as musette bags and letters home. There are bloodstained regimental battle flags, notably one carried at First Manassas (Bull Run) in 1861. The letters and documents humanize the people who wrote and carried them.

One particular item of interest is a tattered blue Confederate infantryman's uniform worn at First Manassas. Because there was confusion over who was whom in the heat of battle, the Confederates switched to gray-and-butternut uniforms for the rest of the war.

The museum takes only an hour to visit thoroughly, and you'll come away with respect for the human beings -- fellow Americans -- who mostly by accident of birthplace fought and died on the wrong side of history.

This is the last blogpost about our visit last week to New Orleans, but we'll continue to post photos of the trip on the other blog.

Interior of the museum. Despite the No Photography sign, long shots are OK.


  1. I have thoroughly enjoyed your guided tours and history lessons. Thank you so much.

  2. I saw the other bigger museum (well, it was really dark inside and with poor eyesight, I kind of rushed through it - my mother, who's almost 94, was one of the "Rosies" putting bomb racks on "Billy Mitchells" so I wanted to see that). Wish I'd known of this one. Thanks again for the posts!