History chose Richmond as the locus of the blood-soaked struggle between North and South that raged from 1861 to 1865, a war that very much reverberates today as the city and communities elsewhere grapple with the meaning and public propriety of Confederate monuments and flags.
And it’s crucial, said S. Waite Rawls III, the former president and CEO of the Museum of the Confederacy who now serves as president of the American Civil War Museum Foundation, that Richmond serve as the site of the “premiere institution” to explore how that defining war was experienced by all of the people it touched and how it came to be remembered.
“You want a credible source that can look at all sides in a dispassionate manner,” said Rawls, who, with Christy Coleman, CEO of the museum, helped consolidate the Museum of the Confederacy with the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar with the aim of creating a new marquee institution four years ago. “It’s an important step forward for this whole nation.”
The museum marks a major milestone on that path Monday, when it will break ground on a 29,000-square-foot main exhibit hall and collections storage and preservation center to be built into the hillside at the Tredegar site, incorporating the brick ruins of the old ironworks that powered the Confederate war effort.
The new museum building, at roughly $25 million, will feature a 75-seat immersive “experience theater” that greets visitors on the first floor that aims to tell the story, from all sides, of the war that almost successfully pulled the United States apart. Key themes will revolve around individual decisions and how they were shaped by events.
“We want to put people in a situation where they say, ‘Oh my goodness. If it had been me, what would I have done?'” Rawls said.
Coleman said the theater, which will feature a carefully…