Major Civil War Exhibit Begins at History Museum

IMG_3809The History Museum of Western Virginia is now home to a very hands-on temporary exhibit on the Civil War.

Located on the 3rd floor of Center in the Square in downtown Roanoke, Museum Operations Manager Kim Clymer says the new location gives them the room necessary to host “An American Turning Point:  The Civil War in Virginia.”

“We are one of the few museums in Virginia that can actually house the whole thing because of space.”  It takes up about 3,000 square feet and has been displayed in other regional venues but only in two parts.

The first part is ‘Waging War’ which covers the details horror of the battlefields. The second segment called ‘Surviving War’ depicts life on the home front with a focus on slaves, women and children.”

“It really does cover all aspects of the war and how it affected people.” Many patrons will likely be able to relate to the reality today when a father or mother goes off to war and the other parent has to step up and take over their role in the household.

“A lot of people will say that Roanoke was not a hub for the Civil War, however many of our men went to fight,” said Clymer. We did have some skirmishes here in the Roanoke Valley, so I think it’s important that people know that it did affect us even though we weren’t a location for major battles –  that it did affect the Roanoke Valley and Virginia as a whole and it’s important to tell that story.”

There are more than 200 artifacts in the exhibit and Education Coordinator Alaina McKee says the display contains a number of interactive displays that will be great for school groups.  One of her favorites is, “Who Freed the Slaves” where “you get to pretend to be an escaping slave.  It has different scenarios and a lot of times you’ll get caught.  You might make it all the way to the Union troops and then they turn you away because you don’t have a profitable skill.  It’s really interesting because it teaches kids that it wasn’t as easy as it might seem – there were a lot of different ways that you could get caught on the way. There were also questions of how you find food when you’re on the escape path, do you carry a weapon, do you choose not to?”

Another favorite is the all touch-screen exhibit about medicine.  “You sign up as a doctor and you have to treat all these soldiers’ illnesses that come in and decide how you will treat things like syphilis and malaria and typhoid.  It tells you about some of the medicines that they would give them like mercury and it then talks about how today we don’t use mercury because it was actually killing people.”

 “An American Turning Point:  The Civil War in Virginia” is organized by the Virginia Historical Society in partnership with the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission and the National Endowment of Humanities and will be on display at the History Museum of Western Virginia until June 1st of next year.

– Beverly Amsler