The Civil War Museum: Almost Forgotten History

The Civil War Museum
929 Camp St.
New Orleans, La

Not many people realize that the oldest museum in Louisiana, The Civil War Museum, is across the street from one of the newest museums, The War World II Museum. Though often overshadowed by the newer facilities across the way, the Civil War Museum offers a great amount of historical memorabilia that shall not be forgotten due to the dedication of the Memorial Hall Foundation. This non-profit group has maintained the Memorial Hall building, which has housed civil war memorabilia for 117 years. The building was donated by Frank T. Howard and has been under legal battle for the last 8 years. The battle over the property rights of the museum has taken the Memorial Hall Foundation to the Supreme Court of Louisiana. Though history is full of unpleasant beliefs and repugnant action, all history has a right to be preserved. For it is with the desire to preserve American history that the Memorial Hall Foundation fought against those who refuse to see the good and education in our past. Unlike what many assume, the museum preserves the character of our nation, not racism. As of 2003 an agreement was made and the museum will remain open. Unfortunately the weather has not acted in Memorial Hall’s Favor. Luckily Katrina caused no damage to the museum and its artifacts. Though the winds of Katrina did not affect the museum, a random storm in September 2007 caused huge water damage to one side of the museum. Some of the oil paintings are still being restored and a few of the swords rusted. However, the majority of items are back and the cases remain mostly undamaged.

Walking into the long cypress paneled hall with exposed beams transports you into the 1860s, for the building itself is quite amazing and historical. The Memorial Hall is the perfect venue for Civil War memorabilia. Veterans and their families, making the experience truly authentic and personal, donated the majority of the collection, 90%, after the civil war. Many of the artifacts are from the personal holdings of different soldiers, not just Generals. However, the museum boasts of a Jefferson Davis section, including personal items from before and after the civil war. The most interesting include his daughter’s Mardi Gras Comus jewelry and Davis’s saddle. The museum does an excellent job of showing civil war life to its patrons; the personal affects and hundreds of photographs illustrate civil war life, especially in the quickly conquered city of New Orleans. There is even a case about the creation of old photographs and lithographs. Civil War life in New Orleans is revealed through the cases referencing General William “Beast” Butler, (the military leader over New Orleans after its fall to the Union known for his disdain for Southerners). This section includes political drawings, General’s orders, photographs, and the silver spoons he stole from Confederate soldiers’ houses, giving him the infamous nickname “silver spoons.” Other exhibits include a huge array of weaponry, including guns and swords from the time period, uniforms, hats, and over 125 flags. One of my favorite cases held medical devices and an amputation kit, which made me think of the great advancements made in medicine and the poor soldiers who fought only to lose a limb in a painful, gut wrenching procedure. Many of the artifacts cause reflection. From handcrafted cups to sewing kits, the cases filled with personal items bring the past to life. To complete the experience is a knowledgeable staff, happy to talk with any patron. Next time you find yourself in New Orleans, do not forget Memorial Hall and the treasures of the past that so many have fought to preserve.

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