Ellis Billups didn’t like what he read about the Civil War in his fourth-grade history books. “You never learned about any of the ugly side that Virginia played,” he said. Yesterday, the 48-year-old Hampton resident traveled to Richmond to tour the “In the Cause of Liberty” exhibit at the American Civil War Center. He said it offers a different, much-needed perspective. “It tells a little bit of both sides,” he said. Billups, a living historian representing the United States Colored Troops, was dressed in uniform similar to what his ancestors, who were members of the U.S.C.T., would have worn in the 1860s during the height of the war. “My family fought so that I could be free,” he said yesterday morning.
The center, which opened to the public for the first time yesterday, is at the Tredegar Iron Works, an 8.3-acre National Historic Landmark along the north bank of the James River and once the industrial heart of the Confederacy. The opening represents the culmination of a nine-year effort to create a Civil War museum that tells Union, Confederate and black stories in one place and brings about racial healing in addition to a greater understanding of the war. Because of heavy rain, some of the scheduled events, including an
artillery-firing demonstration, had to be canceled.
But Alex Wise, the center’s president, still was in good spirits. “If you like guns and saddles, we’ve got them,” he said. Wise had several dozen family members in town to celebrate the opening. Cheryl and Charles Wise of Washington were two of them. Yesterday morning, they toured the center. Both agreed that it will become a tourist destination that adults and children will enjoy.
Anedra Bourne, marketing director at the center, said visitors walk from the present into the past. There are four filming areas in addition to the other exhibits that follow a natural timeline, she said. Tim Fredrikson of Richmond, who also was at the museum as a part of the U.S.C.T. regiment, said, “This is one of the most fantastic museums we’ve been in.” Yesterday, he was acting as Maj. Atherton Stevens, a white officer in the U.S.C.T. He said he was more comfortable in his Civil War uniform than in a pair of Levi’s. “I don’t call this a hobby,” he said. “I call it an obsession.”
I would love to hear from those of you who have toured the museum. If interested, email me a short review and in a couple of weeks I will put together a post that incorporates what I’ve received.