Today, while the Museum of the Confederacy goes begging, the brand-new, $13 million American Civil War Center — a museum that looks at the war from three perspectives (Southern, Northern and black) — is a gleaming testament to what might be called a more modern memory of the past. It’s only a few blocks away, on the banks of the James River at the city’s Civil War-era gun foundry, a National Park Service site.
It’s on an eight-acre campus — 10 times the size of the Museum of the Confederacy site. The center’s prime backers include Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James McPherson. Just six months old, it’s already packed with school kids coming to learn about the Confederacy as a flawed participant in the Civil War, not as the Great Defender of (white) Southern Heritage.
You walk into the bookstore at the Museum of the Confederacy, then the one at the Civil War Center, and the first differences you notice are the black faces on the shelves in the latter: Nat Turner. "Slave Nation." Harriet Tubman. "Remembering Slavery." There were 4 million black people in the 11 slave-owning states at the start of the Civil War, and by war’s end, 500,000 had fled to the North — one out of every eight men, women and children — looking for something, anything, other than the genteel world of the gallant South.