The Making of a Museum: Facts About the New American Civil War Museum

The making of a museum is as complex as the stories it tells. Thousands of hours of research are invested, countless interviews conducted, and thousands of artifacts are reviewed and considered for inclusion. Read on to learn more.

How many artifacts are included in the museum?

There are approximately 550 artifacts on display.     

Which artifacts are the most valuable or historically important?

  • Items belonging to General JEB Stuart, General Lee and General Stonewall Jackson
  • Two diaries from the Petty brothers, one who fought for the Union and one who fought for the Confederacy
  • A doll believed to have smuggled medicine into the South past the blockade
  • Trinkets carved and crafted by POWs that were sometimes used as trade to get food stuff to survive
  • The Last Meeting painting

Are there any artifacts on display that have never been seen before?

Items that have not been displayed for 40 years include a First Battle of Manassas bed sheet hand-drawn map, an ambulance/hospital stretcher for carrying the wounded, General Stonewall Jackson’s flask, and the Petty brothers’ diaries.

How many images, letters or other primary documents/materials did the research team review to develop the exhibits?

Thousands. The American Civil War Museum has approximately 15,000 physical artifacts and photos in their collection. This number does not include manuscripts and archival paper items. Much more research was conducted using primary sources other than what is cataloged.

How many different personal stories are shared in the museum?

Roughly 60-80 personal stories are shared in the exhibit – from personal narratives and diary entries to artifacts and photos.

What interviews were conducted as part of the research process?

Many experts on the Civil War were consulted throughout this project. The Solid Light team worked with historian, professor, and past president of the University of Richmond, Historian and Ed Ayers and ACWM Curator Cathy Wright who coordinated expert research and interviews.

What is the most impactful part of the museum? How did the team design it?

The entire space is designed for impact. Solid Light used Emotional Mapping to identify which areas of the museum required a more emotional approach for connection and which areas could rely on sharing facts for education. Key moments in the war, national conversations, and personal experiences were included so there is a diverse range of emotions and moments displayed throughout the museum.

How did Solid Light arrive at the decision to colorize original photos?

CEO, Christy Coleman, was clear in her vision to reframe this period in American history. Solid Light approached the subject using unconventional storytelling methods to present the sensitive and complex issues of the Civil War in a new way for today’s audiences. The work was able to take shape and form due to a very close working relationship with the curatorial staff of ACWM; leaning heavily on their expertise to inform the design. When it came to decisions on how to best present pieces for broad understanding, as with the colorized photos, the ACWM would conduct audience research with visitors on various presentations. Those recommendations and a shared consensus are what you see in the results.

What are some important facts about the multi-media components?

The Year Pillar interactives were created to provide an interesting and accessible primer to every year of the war. Not only does it include key events and milestones of the War, it also provides a unique platform to view artifacts that are not on physical display, expanding access to the Museum’s vast collection.

During the Siege of Vicksburg residents were forced to burrow into and live in hillsides and caves to survive the war. Solid Light created a stylized cave theater through a series of nine panels in various shapes, sizes, and configurations. These panels, or shards, represent the fracture caused by the war and share personal stories of survival in a unique media installation.