Within view of the James River and nestled beside the historic Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, sits a museum that is not to be overlooked. The American Civil War Museum offers a well-rounded and engaging learning experience for all those who have an interest in the defining era of our country’s history.
Originally formed in 2013, the American Civil War Museum was a merger between the American Civil War Center and the nearby Museum of the Confederacy. I had the pleasure of visiting their first facility in September of 2018, before the collection at the Museum of the Confederacy was adopted into its new building. The new museum, housing the artifacts and exhibits from both, opened in May of 2019 and I made a point of revisiting the following August. And I’d have to say that I love what they did with the place.
The ruins of one of the walls from the Tredegar Iron Works welcomes visitors, a towering sentinel marking the entrance to a treasure trove of Civil War history. The symbolism of the fragmented wall art of portraits in the front foyer is powerful. The sample of faces of America’s general population makes one realize that this was a war that impacted everyone. Man, woman, free slave, young and old.
Inside, 30,000 square feet houses two galleries of exhibits. Over 500 artifacts are on display, but many more are stored away in their state-of-the-art facilities for preservation. As the visitor walks through the museum, they will be traveling chronologically through the war, beginning with a replication of the Henry House from Manassas being blown apart by artillery. The exhibits at the museum represent both sides of the war (Union and Confederate), as well as the stories that aren’t often told about the struggles of women and blacks (free and slave) during the war. Even the sailors and navy are represented in this collection! Their mission statement is, “We believe that understanding this period of America’s development is fundamental to understanding current culture, and who we are as Americans. We seek to provide our visitors with multiple perspectives and added dimensions of the American Civil War.” That, I can assure you, is accomplished.
It’s one of the most comprehensive museum visits I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve been to many museums. One could spend hours upon hours studying the artifacts, which are wonderfully and thoroughly interpreted for visitors. They have a variety of artifacts that I had seldom seen anywhere else, from dolls that were used to smuggle medicine through the blockade to artfully carved bone that had been whittled away by bored prisoners of war. A rare bullet “rosette” can be found in the exhibit, where two bullets collided in mid-air and melded together. As I mentioned before, the new museum houses the old artifacts from the Museum of the Confederacy, so famous items like General Robert E. Lee’s riding boots and J.E.B. Stuart’s hat can be found on display at ACWM. Everything from haversacks to shoes to small arms, uniforms, hardtack, saddles, buttons, and even a draft drum where they pulled out names for new conscripts. Hardships suffered by Confederate civilians drove them to get creative to meet their daily needs, and the products of their efforts can also be found sprinkled through the museum displays.
A second exhibit is housed upstairs, but this one is rotating and may vary visit to visit, so be sure to check on their website before visiting to see what they have to offer.
Parking is $3, however this can be validated once you purchase a ticket to the museum and the fee is waived. There’s also a giftshop packed with books and other merchandise like shirts, mugs, and souvenirs.
Hours: Open Daily 10:00AM–4:00PM; Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Years Day. Site closes at 2:00 PM on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve.
Address: 480 Tredegar St., Richmond, VA 23219
Phone: 804–649–1861 ext. 100
Tickets: Adult – $16; Youth – $8; Seniors, Military & Students – $14
Tredegar Iron Works
Next door and a separate entity from ACWM is the Tredegar Iron Works building, which is now the Richmond National Park Visitor’s Center. There is another museum inside, and this would be a great stop to find out more information about Historic Tredegar and other Civil War sites in and around Richmond. Founded in 1837, Tredegar was one of the country’s largest manufacturers of iron products. During the war, they supplied half of the Confederacy’s iron needs, such as artillery cannons and other smaller items like harnesses and spurs. The story of the factory is told today, as well as the general story of the Civil War which can be experienced on multiple floors.
My honest recommendation is to spend half the day at ACWM and the other half at Tredegar Iron Works while you’re in the vicinity, as both are amazing and have much to offer. They share a parking lot and the parking fee can be validated by admission to the ACWM.
Hours: 9:00 a.m. till 5:00 p.m. daily. They are closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years days.
Entrance Fee: Adults $8.00, Seniors (age 62+) $6.00, Children (age 6-17) $4.00, Groups (10 or more) $5.00 and Children (age 5 and under) FREE
Phone: 804 226-1981
White House of the Confederacy
With your access to the ACWM, you have the option to tour the former White House of the Confederacy, where Jefferson Davis and his family lived from 1861 to 1865. I took the tour in 2018 and unless something has changed, I can guarantee the tour is worth it. Just straight facts, no glorification of Davis or the Confederacy. Just about the house, what they did in it, and the big names that walked through the doors. The architecture and inside furnishings are incredible in themselves. You’ll even get to see the chair that Lincoln sat in upon his visit to Richmond in April of 1865.
They currently don’t accept walk-ins, so you’ll need to purchase your ticket ahead of time at the ACWM. Parking is free for visitors and available at the MCV Visitor Parking Deck on 12th Street. This is incredibly easy to miss, but as you’re coming down North 12th Street, driving away from the White House of the Confederacy, you’ll see a “P” for parking sign on your right and a little entrance. That’s it! I drove past it at least four times and had to get someone from the museum to give me clearer instructions. You’ll park and just follow the signs. Tours begin every 45 minutes and last about that long.
Hours: Friday–Sunday: 10:00 AM–4:00 PM (tours are every 45 minutes) Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Years Day. Site closes at 2:00 PM on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve.
Address: 1201 E. Clay St., Richmond, VA 23219
Phone: 804–649–1861 ext. 100
Tickets (purchased separate from your ACWM fee): Adult: $9; Senior, Military, Teachers & Students: $8; Youth – $5
The American Civil War Museum – Appomattox
This is not a museum I have personally visited yet, but I still recommend it. You can also purchase tickets for this one at the ACWM in Richmond and if you can’t get to everything in one day, don’t worry, they last a little while if you purchase everything in their combo-ticket package.
Located just a mile away from Appomattox Courthouse and the surrender site at the McLean House, this secondary museum provides insight to the period of the Civil War that everyone was happy to see: the end! At the time of this article, they had an exhibit about black Virginians in the age of emancipation and how freedom was experienced by the formerly enslaved population of Richmond. Parking is completely free and onsite.
Open Daily: 11:00 AM–4:00 PM
Address: 159 Horseshoe Rd, Appomattox, VA 24522
Phone: 804–649–1861 ext. 200
Tickets: Adult – $12, Senior, Retired Military, Teachers & Students – $10; Youth: $6
For more about the current exhibits, visit the following websites:
American Museum of the Civil War/White House of the Confederacy/ACWM Appomattox: https://acwm.org/
Tredegar Iron Works/Richmond National Battlefield Park: https://www.usa-civil-war.com/Tredegar/tredegar_vst.shtml