March 08, 2007
By Andrew Bell
The Museum of the Confederacy, home to the world’s largest collection of Civil War artifacts, is weighing the possibility of severing its 117-year relationship with the city of Richmond, the former capital of the short-lived southern republic. In October, museum officials announced that they would entertain offers from other cities interested in hosting a proposed brand-new, multi-million dollar facility. So far, more than twelve towns (most in Virginia) have submitted preliminary bids. An especially promising site is the Rockbridge County Courthouse complex located in Lexington, Virginia, the last home of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Robert E. Lee, two of the Confederacy’s most famous generals.
The hunt for a new location began after curators noticed a slide in ticket sales and an increase in urban sprawl, caused mainly by new construction projects at Virginia Commonwealth University. Officials say there are no plans to move the White House of the Confederacy, the former residence of Jefferson Davis, which is located downtown at the corner of 12th and East Clay streets and is also operated by the museum. S. Waite Rawls III, president and CEO, says a new building will provide visitors with more exhibits, ample parking, and a greater number of dining options. He also says the reaction to the announcement has been overwhelmingly positive: “We have been swamped with inquiries from all over the state.”
But not everyone is pleased with the way the museum is being operated. The Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans believes Rawls and his staff have become slaves to political correctness. “They are trying to appeal to the mainstream,” says Brag Bowling, the group’s leader, in a recent Richmond Times-Dispatch article. “That’s not what the museum is about. It was set up to be a shrine to the Confederacy.” Bowling hopes SCV can win control of the museum, which is also considering a proposal to drop the word “Confederacy” from its name.