Wednesday, June 20, 2012

New Orleans museum: Look, don't shoot (photos)

New Orleans' Confederate Museum, also known as Memorial Hall,  has an impressive collection
 of Civil War relics, but don't expect to take a lot of photos there.
Here in New Orleans, the city conquered by the Union army in April 1862, there's an old museum that presents an entirely different picture of the Civil... err ... War of Northern Aggression/War for Southern Independence.

The Confederate Museum -- located a few blocks down the street from where Lee Harvey Oswald may have had mysterious dealings with former FBI agent Guy Banister in the summer of 1963 (that's a whole 'nother blog) -- has a collection that would make any Civil War buff woozy.

Your admission fee (eight bucks for adults) allows you to gaze upon Jefferson Davis' gloves, the wooden chest the president of the Confederacy once used and the crown of thorns an admiring Southerner sent to Davis while he was imprisoned by the Union army. And you may also ogle the jaw-dropping collection of  rebel battle flags (including at least one that was at Antietam), as well as the fabulous collection of identified Confederate hard images, CDVs and muskets.

But don't expect to shoot many photos.

Confederate Museum in New Orleans.
With the exception of allowing visitors to take an overall image of what once was a gathering place for Confederate veterans, no photography is allowed. Something about copyright or some such. That's too bad. Opening its doors in 1891, the museum billed as the oldest in Louisiana is easily one of the better Civil War museums that I have visited.

Louisiana philanthropist Frank Howard constructed the red-brick building, also known as Memorial Hall, as a meeting place for Civil War veterans and to house and protect the old soldiers' relics. According to a museum brochure, Howard wanted the hall to show "how a brave people and their descendants hold the name and fame of their heroes and martyrs with admiration undiminished by disaster or defeat and with love unquenched by time." (I can almost hear Shelby Foote's voice in my head reciting that line.)

If you do go, spend a little more time that the 45 minutes I did today. There's plenty to see, albeit from a strictly Southern point of view. (Lincoln? Who's that guy?) The collection includes personal items from Robert E. Lee, Braxton Bragg and other Southern heroes. Many of the relics were donated by the soldiers who used them.

Among the more interesting items are hard images of black soldiers who allegedly fought for the Confederacy. There's plenty of doubt about that, as Andy Hall over at the Dead Confederates blog could attest. And I got a kick out of offerings in the museum book store. I doubt you will find "War Crimes Against Southern Civilians" and "To Die in Chicago: Confederate Prisoners at Camp Douglas" in any Civil War museum in Connecticut, Massachusetts or anywhere else in the North, for that matter.

I also enjoyed the conversation with a museum visitor from the South, who quickly pointed out that he was "no redneck" when I told him I was from Connecticut. Probably in his late 50s, the recent retiree claimed he had ancestors who fought in the 18th Louisiana at Shiloh. "They were just poor farmers," he said, "and they both lost their guns at the battle." Love bumping into folks with stories about Civil War ancestors.

Around the corner from museum the ultimate Southern hero is honored. In Lee Circle is a 60-foot marble column topped with a 12-foot statue of a stern-looking Robert E. Lee, his arms folded. On this day, it was best that the general, who has been in place here since 1877, could not gaze down and to his left. That's where a disheveled man, his face weathered by the sun, sipped a Miller beer before I startled him.

Robert E. Lee gazes over New Orleans from high atop a 60-foot piece of marble.

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