FORT LEE, Va. (March 26, 2015) -- The American Civil War Museum at Tredegar Iron Works along the picturesque James River in Richmond is a place to learn about the Civil War – its causes, its course and its legacies. It’s the nation’s first museum to interpret the Civil War from Union, Confederate and African-American perspectives.
“We tell the entire story – from the social, political and military perspectives,” said Christy Coleman, co-CEO of the museum. “Here, all of the main stories get significant space together for the first time. By understanding these three perspectives on a subject that’s still divisive almost a century-and-a-half later, we can begin to see the war differently – as a shared national heritage.”
Coleman said, “Visitors also can enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the center’s picturesque location on the historic river while seeing the enormity of collections of Civil War artifacts.”
She is especially proud of the center’s flagship, teaching exhibit titled “In the Cause of Liberty” in the restored 1861 Tredegar Foundry building. This exhibit has been acclaimed as a breakthrough in Civil War interpretation, according to the museum’s website.
It features films, artifacts and hands-on activities to tell the story.
“Our displays change often, so there’s always something new to see,” she said.
The 8.9-acre Tredegar complex was the South’s largest manufacturer of locomotive parts and weapons used during the Civil War. A National Historic Landmark, the site contains five surviving buildings illustrating the Iron Works era including the large restored gun foundry building. The National Park Service operates the Richmond National Battlefield Park Visitor Center located in the restored Pattern Building.
While the museum opened in October 2006, Tredegar traces its roots to 1836. Named for the famous iron works at Tredegar, Wales, it stood as Richmond’s foremost business concern for more than a century. The city’s location next to a waterpower source and the development of the railroad industry in the 1830s and 1840s, made Richmond the iron and coal center of the South. The facility manufactured a diverse array of products, including cannon and ordnance for the government, locomotives, train wheels, naval hardware, iron machinery, equipment for sugar mills and much more.
During the Civil War, Tredegar produced more than 1,000 cannons for the Confederacy. It also made armor plating for use on Confederate ironclad warships, including the famous CSS Virginia. In 1861, it employed 750 men; by 1863, more than 2,500.
Tredegar later cast munitions for the U.S. Army and Navy during the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, and the Korean War.
“This was such a large industrial complex and people are amazed at what they learn here,” she said.
“While on site,” Coleman said, “visitors can see the remnants of Tredegar’s industrial and transportation past. Stroll along the Canal Walk and take the pedestrian bridge over the James River to Belle Isle, once a prisoner of war camp and today a park of great natural beauty.”
She said people can learn about the people and events that impacted Tredegar, and walk the site with a museum guide, hear stories from the home front or learn the secrets of prison camp survival. Visitors can see history come alive as costumed interpreters explore recruitment, training, camp life, and battle experiences of the Civil War soldier.
For example, every Saturday at 11:30 a.m., youngsters are needed to join the Tredegar Battalion. They will discover how a Civil War soldier trained and fought with the rifle musket by drilling with a costumed interpreter. At noon on Saturday, visitors can check out “Camp Life of the Common Soldier.” Only a small amount of Civil War soldiers’ time was spent on the battlefield. What were they doing when they weren’t fighting? Visit with costumed interpreters portraying Union and Confederate soldiers to find out.
Or, they can take part in “From Foundry to Fire” on Saturdays at 2 p.m. and learn about the importance of the cannon manufacturing capabilities of Tredegar as well as the role field artillery played in the Civil War. A costumed artillery crew will explain the process of making and testing the cannon and then demonstrate with the help of visitors the use on the battlefield.
“Helping to fire cannons is popular with the kids, and they always enjoy it,” Coleman added.
The museum also has many special programs for school groups during the year.
Big changes are on the horizon for the museum starting in late December. The museum is embarking on a $30 million project to construct a major new building to feature more than 7,000-square feet of gallery space for permanent and changing exhibitions as well as an “immersion theater” highlighting Richmond’s role in the war. The plans also call for a new outdoor exhibit, living history demonstrations, and a new Family Resource Center, Those projects also will include a reconfiguration of the site’s landscaping, repair of the historic canal wall and leveling of the grounds on the site’s upper level.
She noted, “The exhibit galleries will remain open to the public throughout the outdoor construction including “In the Cause of Liberty.”
The museum is located at 500 Tredegar St., near Brown’s Island. It is open every day 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, $4 for children, ages 6-17, and free for children under 5. There also are rates for groups of 10 or more.
For more information, call (804) 649-1861 or visit www.tredegar.org.