By Herb Sparrow
With the 150th commemoration of the Civil War in full force, several Southern museums that specialize in the war are coming to the forefront. Although many special events are scheduled around the sesquicentennial over the next four years, these museums provide an ongoing insight into one of the defining times in American history.
Although many Southern museums have sections dealing with the war, here are a few museums that focus entirely on the Civil War, giving insight into what happened on the battlefields, on the home front and at sea.
Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park
Prairie Grove, Ark.
Although the town of Prairie Grove was built in the 1880s over much of the land in northwest Arkansas where a key Civil War battle was fought, the 838 acres preserved by Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park is considered by historians to be one of the most intact Civil War battlefields.
The battle, which took place Dec. 7, 1862, eight miles west of Fayetteville and resulted in more than 2,700 casualties, was the last major Civil War engagement in that part of the state.
Hindman Hall, the park’s museum and visitors center, has interactive exhibits and a 15-minute film about the battle.
“The exhibits and guides go from secession through reconstruction and what happens here on Dec. 7,” said Holly Houser, the historical park interpreter. “Maps show the movement of troops, and an interactive exhibit shows how artillery affected the battle. It played a major role at this battle, and there are some cannon replicas you can touch.”
There is a one-mile walking trail along a ridge and through a valley where the heaviest fighting took place. There also is a five-mile driving tour of the battlefield.
Several historic structures are preserved in an Ozark village, including a couple of houses that played key roles in the battle.
Arkansas’ largest battle re-enactment is held biennially in even-numbered years at the park. Houser said this year’s will be on an even larger scale to mark the battle’s 150th anniversary.
Louisiana’s Civil War museums
The oldest continually operating museum in Louisiana was founded in New Orleans in 1891 by a group of Confederate veterans as a repository for their memorabilia.
Louisiana’s Civil War Museum at Confederate Memorial Hall has thousands of Civil War artifacts, including the second largest collection of Confederate memorabilia in the United States.
Among the items are more than 125 original battle flags; uniforms of common Confederate soldiers and famous Confederate officers such as generals P.G.T. Beauregard and Braxton Bragg; Confederate guns and swords; and more than 500 rare photographs of various forms.
The Old Arsenal on the grounds of the Louisiana Capitol in Baton Rouge is a survivor of fierce fighting on Aug. 5, 1862, when Confederate forces under Gen. John C. Breckinridge attempted to retake the town from the Union army, which had captured it that spring.
The combined force of Union naval guns and land-based soldiers beat back the Confederates after daylong fighting that raged through the present-day downtown.
The Old Arsenal, built in 1838, has exhibits about the battle and preserves graffiti left by Union soldiers.