Update: Nice to see that this post inspired one letter to the editor in response to this story. Update #2: Smithsonian has now picked up the story.

Over the weekend the Sons of Confederate Veterans announced that it will build a 17,000 square-foot museum to honor Confederate soldiers and the Confederate cause in Elm Springs, Tennessee, which is also the home of its national headquarters. Their decision to call it a museum, however, needs serious qualification.

Paul Gramling, Lt. Commander-in-Chief of the SCV described their motivation this way:

Time and time again, we have seen where our monuments and museums throughout the South have been dictated by the state and federal governments on what they can and cannot do. That is coming to an end. At the completion of this museum, it will be out of the reach of the long arm of political correctness. This will be ours, as SCV members, [United Daughters of the Confederacy] members, Southerners to tell the truth between 1861-1865.

Senator Joey Hensley, who is also an SCV member had this to say:

It’s an honor to be a part of this ceremony today, to build this museum so that we can remember the heritage of our ancestors that fought so bravely and valiantly for their homelands, for what they believed in. History has been skewed and many times in society today many people try to make those soldiers out to be something they are not. Most of the Confederate soldiers never owned slaves and didn’t fight the battle because of slavery. They fought the battle defending their homelands against an invading army.

Let’s be clear that the epistemological foundation of this endeavor has much more in common with the Creation Museum, Noah’s Ark Encounter or even the Museum of the Confederacy in its earliest incarnation than anything that we normally designate as a history museum.

Their core value is reactionary and has little, if anything, to do with public outreach or even education. Gramling sums it up best: “This will be ours.”

Ultimately, what we are seeing here is the further acknowledgment that the Lost Cause continues to lose credibility as a legitimate interpretation of the past and as something worthy of honoring or celebrating. We can see this in the ongoing debates about the battle flag and Confederate monuments. This museum will serve primarily as a retreat for a dwindling SCV membership, where they can complain about a public that has left them behind.

It is another acknowledgment (at a cost of $5 million) that the Lost Cause has surely lost.

35 comments comments closed

  1. I wonder how much involvement the UDC will have? They aren’t nearly so radical as their male counterpart, and if they were smart, they would stay away from this project. It reeks of presentism.

    This seems less of a museum and more of a shrine.

    • That is exactly what it is. It is a shrine that will attempt to gain some level of legitimacy as a serious museum.

  2. FWIW a SCV museum was announced years ago, money collected then silence.

  3. This is nothing more than a rear guard action, a spirited one to be sure, but covering the retreat of the Lost Cause nonetheless.

    It’ll reinforce the beliefs of those who want/need to believe this claptrap but it’ll be an embarrassing anachronism to most people.

    Within a few decades it’ll be a mere footnote to history as those who foist this agenda will be in no position to continue it’s lies.

    I know they’ll not get my hard-earned money.

  4. My biggest challenge with the Herald’s article is reconciling with the quote referencing “this will be ours.” As if to say, history is or rather, “their” history is singular, not collective. Tragic.

    I completely agree, but this is how SCV members and heritage folks generally frame their understanding of the past. This defensive posture has become more apparent in recent years for obvious reasons.

    • Maybe “Lost Cause” is the problem. If it is still in the memory of it descendants, it’s not so much of a lost cause. It seem a little radical to put so much emphasis on how it lost. Maybe a museum of how hard it tried to win and preserve is maybe a better way to show it. Just saying.

      • “Maybe ‘Lost Cause’ is the problem. If it is still in the memory of it descendants, it’s not so much of a lost cause.”
        ____

        “Lost Cause” is not a modern descriptive term. It’s a specific and identifiable ideology, like Young Earth Creationism or Mithraism. It’s actually a thing, whether anyone believes in it or not.

  5. Word also needs to get out to local schools that this is not a place they should be taking students to visit for a history lesson.

    • Hi Emily,

      This is wonderful. Let me know if it gets published. Send me a link if it is posted online and I will attach it to the top of the post. Well done.

  6. “Time and time again, we have seen where our monuments and museums throughout the South have been dictated by the state and federal governments on what they can and cannot do.”

    I wonder what museums and monuments he’s referring to. The ones that are actually owned by governmental entities, I’m guessing. What Gramling seems to be saying is that publicly-owned, taxpayer-supported facilities should be operated at the whim and discretion of, well, himself and his friends in the SCV. Good luck with making that case, Paul.

    • You know as well as I do that they cannot operate a museum with the limited funds they can raise annually. So they’re going to need government money. That means they’re going to have to con people into supporting them and whatever government officials who are willing to say whatever they can to get votes in order to get money for that museum.

      It won’t make enough in Tennessee to stay open.

      Now we can address the lies it wants to tell. I wonder if they will try to say Missouri seceded. Maybe some law suits will be in order.

      • I’d be interested to see their operational plan and budget for the museum, if there is one at this point. A great many communities create museums without any real appreciation of the long-term, ongoing costs involved; they don’t think too far beyond getting the building built and the doors open to the public. That often turns out to the be the easiest part of the process, and few institutions of any size can survive long-term without either substantial public funding or very sizable endowment.

    • I just hope their black Confederate exhibit is finished in time for me to include in my book.

    • So you’re admitting that the museum (which has yet to be built) will reflect the prejudices of its creators by comparing it to a book which you have not read primarily because it has not been published.

      I’m chuckling, too.

  7. I find the lack of publicity about the “groundbreaking” odd. The Herald was about the only local publication to even carry the story. Who knows what will actually transpire at Elm Springs, although this project has been discussed on and off for almost a decade. Ultimately, the very concept of a static “museum” is an archaic one. Today’s very modern visitors will not be drawn in large numbers to such a facility, especially one filled with military artifacts and defensive posturing about facts.

    I suspect denials about slavery’s role in the political breakdown which led to the war, and a thinly veiled vilification of the North, will limit visitation straight away. But then such an approach has been the goal of the SCV since it morphed from the UCV over a century ago.

    • I hope you are right about the general public, but I still worry about their ability to partner with schools and individual teachers that don’t know any better.

  8. I do, too. That being said, state requirements really limit how many field trips students can take (irrespective of grade), and when, for example, 5th and 8th graders are studying the Civil War there are usually only one or two sites they can choose from. They might end up at Elm Springs, and I suspect some are already going there. But Maury County adjoins Williamson County and we get a lot of kids from Maury County at Carter House and Carnton. Rippavilla also gets a sizeable number of school kids.

    Ultimately, they still have to build the museum at Elm Springs. I question whether that goal can ever be achieved.

    Frankly, I am far more concerned state curriculum requirements being changed and significant elements of Civil War history, as well as Civil Rights history, being removed because some particularly vocal teachers think the current standards are too strident. I find that much more distressing than what the SCV is up to, and sadly the curriculum battle is being virtually ignored.

  9. Patrick Henry said he was willing to know the “whole truth.” Are you afraid of the “whole truth?” The part you choose to ignore. The war was NOT all about slavery! Stop kidding yourself, and learn the rest of the story.

    • You should be able to score a discounted museum pass for that one. 🙂

    • The south fought to preserve slavery.
      The north fought to preserve the union.
      all else logically precedes and follows.

  10. Hi Emily,

    Thanks for the additional information. This, of course, is right out of the SCV’s wheelhouse. Nothing surprising here.

  11. Mr. Levin should do his homework when writing about the South. The above picture showing the men in the cemetery carrying the Confederate flags are not here in Tennessee, but rather at Arlington National Cemetery where over 400 Confederate soldiers are laid to rest around the Confederate Monument and possibly more are laid to rest in a mass grave just out side the Custis-Lee Mansion where “Unknown soldiers of the Civil War” are laid to rest. For one who is complaining about a museum here in Tennessee, one would think about getting a photo of Confederate flags being flown proudly in the great sovereign of Tennessee.

  12. What I find interesting and pathetically amusing are the folks who constantly clamor for inclusiveness and co-existence, are the same folks who decry a “truly” Confederate Museum. The folks who peddle in disingenuous diversity and inclusiveness are afraid of being exposed by what the National Confederate Museum will espouse. I’m quite certain that the museum will tell the stories of Confederate Heroes like Black Confederate Dick Poplar and Jews like Judah P. Benjamin. The cultural elites are afraid of exposing the truth that Southern society of the 1860’s was far more tolerant than its Northern counterpart. No where in the North was there ever a decree forcibly removing a race of people (Jews) out of a portion of the country. (See General Order Number 11 issued by General Grant that expelled all Jews in his military district composing areas of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky). And I’m confident that there will be a section on Abe Lincoln and the Corwin Amendment. That piece of legislation, which Lincoln supported, would have codified slavery in the U.S. constitution in perpetuity.
    Yes, the elites won’t like the true stories that are sure to be told at the National Confederate Museum. But hey, that’s too damn bad.

    • “I’m quite certain that the museum will tell the stories of Confederate Heroes like Black Confederate Dick Poplar and Jews like Judah P. Benjamin.”
      Another fake Black Confederate, and red herring Jewish guy.

      “The cultural elites are afraid of exposing the truth that Southern society of the 1860’s was far more tolerant than its Northern counterpart.”
      The Northern counterpart that got rid of its black codes?

      “No where in the North was there ever a decree forcibly removing a race of people (Jews) out of a portion of the country. (See General Order Number 11 issued by General Grant that expelled all Jews in his military district composing areas of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky).”
      You mean “Nowhere in the South,” right? As for an actual interpretation of Grant’s actions, you should read When General Grant Expelled The Jews.

      “And I’m confident that there will be a section on Abe Lincoln and the Corwin Amendment. That piece of legislation, which Lincoln supported, would have codified slavery in the U.S. constitution in perpetuity.”
      Wrong. As per his letter to James N. Brown (http://rogerjnorton.com/Lincoln95.html), Lincoln believed that in peace, only the states could get rid of slavery, and no one else could. The Corwin Amendment merely reflected the status quo that Lincoln believed existed, and left states free to get rid of slavery on their own.

  13. And, once again, there it is. The SCV “defending their version of the truth” is for some reason unacceptable. Granted, there are many who do not agree with their version of the truth, but why should the SCV not have the very same right to defend and/or express their interpretation of history as those who might disagree? The presumption by those in opposition is, and for the most part always has been, that the historical perspective of the SCV is simply wrong – period. In fact, not just wrong, but even perverse and offensive and should be shielded from the public in apparent fear of confusing the hearts and minds of those who are seemingly unable to think for themselves. And although you might be a “trained public historian and academic,” what exactly qualifies you to determine whether or not something should be, or should not be, called a museum? The SCV’s understanding of the “truth” has been increasingly ridiculed and under attack for decades by those on some sort of self-appointed academic and/or moral high horse. They are terrified with the idea that some poor soul might actually hear and or learn something contrary to the one-sided version that has been taught in our public schools for years, and that, again, is simply unacceptable. Instead, they would rather try their best to diminish the SCV’s ability to deliver their side of the story. And if they absolutely must permit the exercise of the SCV’s rights under the law, it needs be in such a way as to make it as difficult or inconvenient as possible to do so. At the end of the day it’s the same old story.

    • It’s called a free marketplace of ideas. The SCV has every right to build a museum to whatever they choose and others are free to evaluate those efforts.