Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Quick Visit to Louisiana's Civil War Museum

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Louisiana's Civil War Museum and Confederate Memorial Hall

We were just in New Orleans and had a few hours before our train left for Memphis so my wife and I checked out Louisiana's Civil War Museum and The Robert E. Lee Memorial.

Having just been in Shiloh a week ago, we're just one step away from throwing on period clothes and reenacting.

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Me, the Letter E and Robert E. Lee

Our first stop was the Robert E. Lee Monument which is located next to the museum in the center of what is called Lee Circle near the Pontchartrain Expressway at the end of St. Charles Avenue. It was dedicated on February 22, 1884 (Washington's birthday), only 20 years after the end of the Civil War. The column was designed by architect John Roy using marble from Tennessee and the actual sculpture was done by Alexander Doyle.

According to Wikipedia, the monument itself is 60 feet tall and Lee is sixteen and half feet tall.

Four staircases lead up to the monument and at the base of each staircase is a bolder sitting on an old warehouse skid, each with a different capital letter. Looking somewhat like modern art, those elements are certainly out of place. We puzzled over the E and then moved immediately north to the next staircase and found the same thing only the letter was an N. Had we moved around, I am pretty certain now that the other letters were N and S representing north, south, east and west.

I am still not certain what the deal is with that but it's doubtful Roy and Doyle incorporated wooden warehouse skids into the design of their memorial.

All day long, thousands of people ride past the monument in street cars and, during Mardi Gras, bleachers are set up and it's supposedly a great spot for watching the parades. I guess an accidental benefit of having the monument so high is we are spared the image of Mardi Gras beads hanging off Lee's sword.

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Louisiana's Civil War Museum and Confederate Memorial Hall

Next up was a visit to Louisiana's Civil War Museum. Just nine blocks from the French Quarter, the building looks a little old and churchy, especially considering it sits across the street from the very modern and sexy National WWII Museum and next to the hipster Ogden Museum of Southern Art, both of which have now been added to my bucket list since we were too pressed for time to include more than one stop.

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Confederate Memorial Hall, between 1900 and 1906

We picked up an info sheet at the front desk of the Civil War Museum that explains the attraction is the oldest operating museum in Louisiana and the building was donated on January 8, 1891 by Frank Howard in memory of his father Charles T. Howard.

My wife struck up a conversation with the gentlemen behind the counter and when he heard we were from Tennessee he told us he had just come from Shiloh the weekend before. Of course, we had to share that we were there too. We are such Civil War insiders.

Most of the collection in the museum was donated by residents of Louisiana. A large collection of Jefferson Davis artifacts were donated by his widow, Varina Banks Howell Davis and May 27 - 28, 1893 over 60,000 visited the museum to pay their last respects to Davis who had died in New Orleans.

Since we were in a hurry, I didn't stop and read about all the items in each one of the exhibit cases but there was enough in the exhibit you could honestly spend two or more hours if you were into it.

Among the items on display are uniforms, guns, bullets, shells, swords, paintings, letters, photos and many personal items from those who fought in the war.

A couple of things of note that jumped out at me during my very hurried visit are below.

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William Crumm Darrah "Billy" Vaught of Tennessee

Always looking for fellow Tennesseeans, I was happy to see Billy Vaught looking down at me from a hallway in the museum. He was born in Tennessee but moved to New Orleans at some point and became a clerk for the Washington Artillery. He was a Second Lieutenant in battles at Shiloh, Corinth and Farmington and was in command at many other battles. He was injured when a shell exploded near him and his hearing was impaired for the rest of his life. He surrendered with the rest of his company at Meridian, MS on May 10, 1865. He didn't live very long after the war, drowning on August 21, 1870 in Natchez, LA. His sabre and spurs were on display in the museum.

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Items belonging to P. G. T. Beauregard

Having just blogged about P. G. T. Beauregard and his surprise attack on Grant at Shiloh, it was interesting to see some personal items belonging to that Louisiana-born military officer in the collection.

According to Wikipedia, "after the war, Beauregard was reluctant to seek amnesty as a former Confederate officer by publicly swearing an oath of loyalty, but both Lee and Johnston counseled him to do so, which he did before the mayor of New Orleans on September 16, 1865. He was one of many Confederate officers issued a mass pardon by Pres. Andrew Johnson on July 4, 1868. His final privilege as an American citizen, the right to run for public office, was restored when he petitioned the Congress for relief and the bill on his behalf was signed by Pres. Grant on July 24, 1876."

He was very involved in public service until his death in and was interred in the vault of the Army of Tennessee in historic Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans.

These are just a couple examples of the hundreds of stories and individuals represented in the artifacts on display in the museum. I highly recommend anyone interested in southern history include a visit to this interesting museum.
For more blog entries, visit my Blog Home Page or the Haywood County Line Genealogy Page.

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