The American Civil War Museum (Richmond, VA) has been on my list to visit for quite a while. And in the last twenty years some work has been done to really preserve the collection in a more permanent way- including a lovely new facility. I set aside a few hours and headed in to educate myself on a war we didn’t really dive into in school.
How To Save on Tickets
There are a few ways to get tickets and some even allow you to save a few bucks!
The American Civil War Museum is part of the Museums for All program. If you are receiving SNAP benefits you can get free of reduced admission to more than 500 museums presenting your SNAP EBT card. Click here to see if you qualify.
If you are a Virginia Public School K-12 School Teacher or Student you can get FREE admission through June 2021. Click here for more information.
You can also buy a combined ticket for The Civil War Museum/Historic Tredegar/ The White House of the Confederacy and Appomattox. They never expire and make it cheaper per visit.
You can get a season ticket (VERY reasonable) and visit however many times you like.
Where To Park
The American Civil War Museum is located next to Historic Tredegar- which unfortunately was closed when I was there due to covid (it’s run by the US Park Service). There is also a beautiful park where I got jealous seeing all the people running (I will be back to check it out) and there is public parking available. It was not free the day I went so be sure to set aside some money in the budget for that.
Visiting the American Civil War Museum Richmond
The actual museum isn’t huge and took me about two hours to go through. Don’t let the size deceive you though- it’s a fantastic collection. I have spent the last few years doing Revolutionary War museums and moving into Civil War has been a bit emotional for me. One big change is that by this war cameras were available. So instead of looking at lovely oil paintings there are some painful pictures of battlefields with bodies scattered over them.
The other, atleast for me, is the uniqueness of knowing all of the 400,000 people killed were at some point Americans and this was a bloody war. With the exception of the Holocaust Museum this was the most sobering museum I had visited and I found myself getting emotional and angry while looking at the displays. I’m not sure it had that affect on others but it did on me.
When you walk inside they have some beautiful preserved brick pieces from the original building and then the wall pictured above. The pictures and stories on the wall give you an idea of what was happening in 1860 before you head into the room with the actual displays.
Once inside I was incredibly impressed with the volume of artifacts and how much information was available. I will be the first to admit I am not familiar with the lifestyle of that time short of what I have seen in films.
The displays are presented in chronological order which does present some challenges but overall I found very helpful. The beginning showed what life was like just before the war as tensions are rising between the North and South. They discussed quite a bit about families being torn apart by politics and how the election of Lincoln was more than the South could handle.
Rather than just give an overview of everything I felt like the museum really focused on individuals. They found fantastic stories from slaves, soldiers, civilians and some local heroes and mixed them in with the better known names of Lee, Grant, Jackson and others. It was like reading a very interesting history book.
One of the things that hit me so hard was all the new ways humans had developed to kill each other by the Civil War. Row after row of hand guns, rifles, different types of bullets and other items. We were now beyond the musket and sword.
Since the North and South were constantly cutting off trade routes as a matter of war the clothing was interesting to see. With the lack of resources they were very creative.
The medical stuff just made me cringe.
I had no idea there were draft riots and dodgers during this war. This was what they used to pull numbers- like playing BINGO.
My heart was relieved when I reached the end.
The museum also covers the period after the war and delves a tiny bit into reconstruction, the Civil Rights movements and some other relevant topics.
At the time of my visit the special exhibit upstairs was Greenback America- which I was thrilled about because I am fascinated by money and how it works. This temporary exhibit tells the story of how the United States’ decision on how to pay off the Civil War transformed the relationship between government, the economy, banks, and citizens. It traces the history of the actual paper money we know today.
There were some great examples of money from that time period as well.
Inside that was a smaller exhibit called “Southern Ambitions.” It basically laid out what the goals of the South were and what the world would be like now if they have won the war.
If you have a student going through American History or just want to catch up on some missed knowledge I highly recommend the American Civil War Museum (Richmond, VA).