Click here to go to the Home Page Creating Confederate Identity - The Museum of the Confederacy Part 3 of 4 By Edward H. Sebesta, Guest Commentator

Click to go to a Printer Friendly version of this article

Bookmark and Share

[This is Part 3 of a 4-Part series]

Part I of this essay documented how the Museum of the Confederacy has provided a home for neo-Confederates like Ludwell Johnson and worked with neo-Confederate organizations; Part II explained that the MOC obscures the issue of slavery in its hagiographic portrayals of Confederate leaders. These activities, however, support what can be considered the primary function of the Museum: to create and reproduce Confederate national identity. To achieve this goal the MOC is both explicit and implicit (‘banal’) in its nationalism and efforts to sacralize the Confederacy.

In the 20th and 21st centuries nationalism, as an ideology for organizing the world, is so dominant that it is difficult to imagine other forms of geopolitical organization. Nations seem to be concrete and objective realities, not social constructs. Yet, the idea of nationality and nations is a relatively recent idea that many commentators believe began in 18th century Europe. National identity is produced through various processes. [1] From national anthems, flags and pledges of allegiance to instruction in the schools and history textbooks, the stuff of nationalism saturates everyday life in a manner that can be referred to as “banal nationalism.” [2] . This section of my essay will examine the MOC’s explicit and banal practices of producing Confederate national identity.

Originally, museums were conceptualized as microcosms of the world. In the 19th century, as the modern nation-state developed in Europe, museums were seen as instrumental in creating national identities. Indeed, they are still employed by relatively new nations as well as established nations to create national identity. As Martin Prösler explains in his paper, “Museums and Globalization”:

In this context the cosmological tradition of the museum has meaning for the nation state, and is at the same time one of its richest symbols.

The museum takes on the form of a complete microcosmic representation of a sovereign nation state. The collected objects in the museum document a human community extending in time and space: the nation. They also document by their (territorial) origins the state’s spheres of political influence. The building contains representatively everything in the state territory – and in this way becomes itself a symbol of a power relationship. The museum embodies the nation state while at the same time providing it with a place in the general order of things. ‘A national heritage is a nation’s umbilical cord’ – a metaphor employed by Assogba of Benin. The task of the museum is to preserve this national heritage within the course of time, handing it down to the succeeding generations. … [3]

Flora E.S. Kaplan further explains that museum, “collections have played important roles in creating national identity and in promoting national agendas”. [4] In the book, “Heritage & Museums: Shaping National Identity,” edited by J.M. Fladmark, multiple examples museum practices of using objects to create Scottish national identity are given. [5]

The Museum of the Confederacy is neither the Museum of the Civil War nor the Museum of the Civil War in the Former Slave States. [6] It is the museum of a nation that attempted to create itself in 1861, before being vanquished in 1865. Inherently the MOC’s actions serve to create a microcosm of the Confederacy, not least by its self-definition as the Museum of the Confederacy, but also in the imagination of people coming into contact with the MOC whether by visiting, being members, reading its publications, or other means.


As described in Parts I and II of this series, the Museum had a long-established annual ball that was, until very recently, named “Celebrate South.” The ball was usually tied to a specific state, implicitly asserting that the “Confederacy” and the “South” are one and the same, thus claiming a territory for this imagined Confederate nation.  The Museum of the Confederacy has also held numerous exhibits which conflate “Southern” and “Confederate” identity. This equation of the “South” and the “Confederacy” has been part of the MOC since its opening its doors in 1896.

At its foundation the MOC “was separated into rooms dedicated to the collections amassed by each of the eleven undisputed Confederate states.” Additionally, the MOC recognized the territorial claims made by the Confederacy by having rooms for Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland, states that were not part of the Confederacy. Additionally there was a “Solid South Room.” [7] Though the practice of having these rooms as an organizational basis for the governance of the MOC is no longer used, it shows that the physical layout of the MOC was meant to be a microcosm of Confederate territory. 146 years later, in 2011, the MOC still routinely uses “South” and “Confederate” interchangeably, distributing an email newsletter titled The Southern Sentinel, that positions the MOC as a protector of the “Southern” and suggesting that there is some threat to this. In a Spring 2011 article in the Museum’s Magazine, MOC historian and director of library and research John Coski writes, “As the South sent her sons off to war in 1861 …” thus making the Confederate war effort a domestic effort of all “Southern” homes. [8] Such language asserts that “Southern” and “Confederate” identities are the same thing. They are, of course, far from being the same. Many white residents of “southern” states in the 1860s opposed the Confederate government and nation; most African-American residents of “southern” states were slaves.

The merging together of “southern” and “Confederate” identities could result in anyone who identifies themselves as a “southerner” identifying with the Confederacy. Given that a great many people self-identify as being southern, often strongly, this is a powerful strategy through which the MOC can create and assert a Confederate national identity.


Confederate Flags

National flags are by definition national identifiers. Confederate flags are those flags adopted by the Confederacy in its quest to be a nation and were intended to serve as a symbol of the Confederate nation. The conservation of flags, like the conservation of any historical artifact, is a legitimate activity for a museum. However, flags are powerful instruments of national identity and act as such - it is the purpose for which they designed.  The MOC uses Confederate flags as symbols that both assert and reinforce Confederate national identity. The MOC’s flag conservation program began in 1993, two years after the opening of the “Before Freedom Came” exhibition, and the year in which Ludwell Johnson’s speech indicated that neo-Confederates had gained significant influence at the museum. Commenting on the launch of the flag program, a 2010 Museum of the Confederacy Magazine article stated that the museum, “continues to bring these splendid banners back to life.” [9] The question can be asked, splendid for whom? Displaying Confederate national identity, supporting it, and reinforcing with Confederate flags, from national to regimental, is one of the MOC’s primary activities. Long unused flags are brought “back to life” at the MOC in more ways than one. Not only are the flags physically restored, they become objects of Confederate identity, veneration, and, implicitly, national restoration.

In a Winter 2006 MOC Magazine article describing its flag conservation program, Confederate flags are referred to in the title as “noble colors,” making clear the MOC’s motivation and purpose for flag conservation. In the article, Dr. Martin Tant, past Commander of a Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) camp, visits the MOC to view a Confederate regimental flag, and decides to sponsor the flag’s preservation. “It was truly an amazing feeling,” Tant states, “to be in the presence of the noble colors that my third great-grandfather , Pvt. Harrison Tant, fought under.” The article further reports on flag conservation sponsors and Confederate re-enactors James and Becky Plummer. The Plummers undertake Confederate memorial projects, the article quotes, “with Love, Honor, and Respect for our boys in Grey who fought for a truly noble cause.” The article concludes, again quoting Tant: “I look forward to seeing the noble flag of the 41st Georgia Infantry Regiment displayed in its righteous place of honor in The Museum of the Confederacy.”  A 2008 MOC Magazine article discussing raising funds for the flag restoration and shows a Confederate re-enacting unit standing, crouching and kneeling around a reproduction of a battle flag of a Confederate unit with the restored original in the background. [10]

A 2009 MOC Magazine article repeats Tant’s reasons, telling the reader, “Dr. Tant sponsored the flag’s restoration in honor of the men of the regiment, particularly his 3rd great grandfather Pvt. Harrison Tant.” [11]

Outlining that “a trend of descendants, reenactors, and researchers [are] deciding to translate their interest and dedication to a flag into sponsorship,” Rebecca Rose explains that although funding is undertaken primarily by groups, there are an increasing number of individual sponsors who make donations “to conserve a fragile flag in what is truly a labor of love.” In detailing the processes and costs of flag conservation, Rose never challenges the characterization of these flags as “noble,” nor does she question assertions that the effort for Confederate secession was “a truly noble cause.”  Instead the MOC positions itself in Rose’s article as a “righteous place of honor” for Confederate flags. [12]

In the Summer 2011 issue of MOC magazine, another article about flag restoration titled, “A ‘Bright and Lasting’ Tribute: The Conservation of the Caroline Greys Flag,”concludes with a quote from a newspaper that a preserved flag was “to achieve bright and lasting honors.” [13] The MOC originally received the flag discussed when it was given to the Relic Committee of the Ladies’ Hollywood [14] Memorial Association. The article is reverential towards the flag, treating it as if it was a holy relic. Funds for this flag’s conservation, curator Catherine Wright explains, were provided by Floyd Tyson, who “had grown up in Richmond, steeped in stories and memories of the [1861-65 Civil] war,” the Caroline Greys and, “Although he had no ancestors who fought beneath the flag of the Caroline Greys, he was deeply respectful of the sacrifices made by the men who did.” [15]

A 2004 Confederate Veteran article about a SCV visit to the MOC, quotes MOC President and CEO , Waite Rawls saying:

“… We have many, many requests from individuals to see a particular flag that their ancestor carried or fought for, and we try to grant everyone’s request. There have been many emotional moments in the flag vault.”

This article, by Henry E. Kidd, SCV Commander of the Army of the Northern Virginia Department urges SCV members to support the MOC:

Gentlemen, our ancestors cried when they surrendered their flags 140 years ago, and their descendants still cry today at the sight of these flags. I wonder how many of us will cry when what we have taken so long for granted is lost to us forever? [16]

Evidently, such appeals are successful. One photograph of two restored Confederate flags, published by the MOC in 2008 shows them alongside a Virginia Confederate Reenactment unit, wearing Confederate military dress, whose members together donated $42,500 to the MOC to conserve the flags. Quoting the caption for the picture, “‘The dedication of this group to these flags is truly inspiring,’ observed President Waite Rawls.” [17]

Numerous other articles in MOC publications make the same point, namely that conserving flags is expensive, but essential, work of the museum. Thus, the MOC’s restoration of Confederate flags along with its storage facilities and policies facilitating their conservation and observation, together treat these flags as if they were sacred objects. As such, the MOC provides the location, the symbols, and the means for the execution of deeply emotional reaffirmations of Confederate national identity. The banners are brought back to life in more ways than one.

Yet, despite this reverence for flags and the work and cost of their conservation, there is one flag in the MOC’s collection that museum publications do not discuss: a Ku Klux Klan flag given to the MOC by the North Carolina Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). On this historic flag, the MOC stays silent.

Selling Confederate Flags

Flags are clear markers of national identity and the MOC, and its store, The Haversack, sells Confederate flags both at the museum in Richmond and through its MOC Magazine, enabling visitors and readers to acquire these symbols of national identity. A visitor to, or member of, the MOC is given the opportunity to purchase numerous objects with various Confederate flags marked, affixed or otherwise made part of the purchase. The most frequently incorporated flag for purchase is the Confederate battle flag. [18] Between 2005 and 2010, the Haversack catalog in the MOC Magazine included, amongst other items, a Confederate soldier nutcracker holding a Confederate flag, [19] candles in jars with Confederate battle flags on them, [20] pocket watches with Confederate flags on the inside of the boxes in which they are sold, [21] a Confederate battle flag pillow, [22] a “Faberge-style” Confederate battle flag egg, [23] a belt decorated with Confederate flags along its length, [24] a wooden “Treasure box” with a lid covered with a Confederate battle flag, [25] flag t-shirts, [26] coins with Confederate leaders against colored Confederate flags, [27] shot glasses, [28] and glass Christmas ornaments of the Confederate battle flag. [29] Also available were Confederate battle flag belt buckles, [30] baseball caps, [31] coasters, [32] blankets, [33] computer mouse pads, [34] ties, [35] and a “laser-etched crystal cube.” [36] Additional items can be found in The Haversack’s online store, [37] including a Confederate battle flag bandana, fabric, bowtie, deck of cards, magnets, decals (of five different types of Confederate flag), six different miniature Confederate flags, five different Confederate flag sew on patches and five different Confederate flag lapel pins.

These are just some of the objects available through The Haversack on which the Confederate flag was prominent. Many other objects incorporate Confederate flags in background scenes, or as part of a larger design, yet all signal Confederate national identity. Yet, curiously, despite this list, until recently the MOC Magazine only occasionally sold specialized Confederate flags that could be flown outside. For example a Confederate blockade runner was sold in just one MOC magazine issue, [38] and a 1st National Confederate flag decorated with an additional Irish harp was advertised in another. [39] However, starting in Fall 2010, the MOC Magazine has focused on selling a variety of 3 by 5 feet Confederate flags. These include, in Fall 2010 alone, the Confederate battle flag, Robert E. Lee’s headquarters flag, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd National Flags of the Confederacy, and a thirteen star variant of the 1st National Confederate flag. [40]

In addition to the flags, the Great Seal of the Confederacy, a national symbol of the Confederacy, is also sold at the MOC’s Haversack store in many forms. This includes a Christmas tree ornaments, [41] a coin, [42] a mug, [43] and a “Great Seal of the Confederacy full color pin” to attach to your clothes, [44] wine and beverage glasses. [45]

Further the MOC sells objects identified with Confederate leaders. In addition to the activities honoring Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis mentioned in the previous installments of this article, the MOC also promotes Confederate leaders as heroes through its Haversack store.  From 2006 to 2011, through the MOC Magazine, the Haversack has offered an array of items identified with Confederate leaders. The Winter/Spring 2007 issue alone offered Robert E. Lee pictures, caps, mugs, pocket watches, key chains, commemorative coins, etched crystals, shadow boxes of both Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson U.S. Postage stamps, resin busts of Lee and Jackson, Lee’s picture inside boxes for a jackknives and figurines of Lee on a horse (both empty-handed and holding the Confederate battle flag) and Lee with another soldier carrying a Confederate battle flag. The same issue also offered “Stonewall” Jackson knives, and pocket watches. [46] Other items offered in the last five years include coasters with Jackson, Lee, Jefferson Davis and his wife, Varina, and others; [47] Robert E. Lee blankets; a pewter sets of Jefferson and Varina Davis, and one of their children; Confederate general playing cards; Jackson, Lee and Mosby lapel pins; [48] Lee Christmas ornaments and keepsake boxes; [49] Confederate candles with portraits of Jackson, Lee, and  Mrs. Jackson;; a Jefferson Davis bust; [50]   “Defenders of Southern Pride” folding knife sets with Lee, Jackson, Longstreet, J.E.B. Stuart, or Nathan Bedford Forrest on the cover of the box; “Confederate candy apple” Jefferson Davis candle; [51] Lee paper weights; Lee pen and pencil holders; magnets with Lee, Jackson, and other Confederate generals; [52] Confederate general James Longstreet, Confederate general A.P. Hill, and Colonel John Singleton Mosby figurines; “Lee Laser-Etched Crystal Cube,” [53] “Last Meeting of Lee and Jackson” Christmas ornament; commemorative coins of Davis, Lee, Jackson and Stuart; Confederate shot glasses of Lee, Jackson, Stuart, Longstreet, Pickett, and Johnson; [54] Lee Belt plate, available in in brass but also gold-plated with a custom box for $500.00; and Carte De Visite Magnets for Jackson, Lee, Davis, Varina Davis, and Lee and Jackson together. [55]

Finally, in the online store you can purchase a Confederate constitution, a “unique collectible” available as “a full-size replica of the original Provisional Confederate Constitution,” currently housed in the MOC, “ten feet in length and wound on a large wooden roller,” making it not merely a souvenir document but a sacred text. [56]

Any souvenir, and all these various knick-knacks, functions as a “mnemonic device... the personal repository of a special memory.” [57] The purchase of flags, seals, and other items of Confederate national identity allows individuals to make a conscious decision to accrete to themselves objects of Confederate identity. Together they enable an individual to display an identification with the Confederacy to others. In addition, buying these items from the MOC, an institution that represents itself as a reliquary of the Confederacy, gives them a special status. They are more ‘authentic,’ more ‘sacred,’ more strongly representative of Confederate national identity, than flags or other objects purchased from commercial vendors. The MOC builds Confederate national identity by selling it to consumers.

Shrine & Reliquary

The MOC fosters a Confederate national identity, employing national symbols and heroes in this production, but these activities are subsumed within the museum’s older practice, namely a sacralization of the Confederacy, in which the museum is a sacred place for the storage of Confederate relics. Annabel Jane Wharton, in “Selling Jerusalem: Relics, Replicas, Theme Parks,” explains:

A relic is the remnant of a history that is threatened by forgetting. It records duration and postpones oblivion. It offers reassurance that the past retains its authority. It collapses time. A relic is a sign of previous power, real or imagined. It promises to put that power back to work. A relic is a fragment that evokes a lost fullness. It is a part that allows the embrace of an absent whole. It is the living piece of a dead object. It is an intensely material sign entangled in a spiritual significance. A relic avoids intrinsically valuable materials. It works in part through the uniqueness of its survival. [58]

The language of relics, sanctity and pilgrimage pervades much writing by and about the MOC. John Coski, for example, in an article titled, “President Theodore Roosevelt Made a Pilgrimage to the Confederate Museum,” simply through the term “pilgrimage” implies that Roosevelt believed in the Confederate cause (pilgrims, of course, act upon their faith) and that a journey to the MOC is equivalent of travel to a shrine or other holy place. [59]

As mentioned above, the MOC acquired its initial artifacts from a women’s reliquary committee, and Ludwell Johnson’s characterization of the MOC as a “reliquary of the Confederacy” is a theme that the MOC leadership continues to emphasize. In a 2002 article, Coski explains the museum’s purpose:

In 1899, Mrs. Park appeared before the UDC’s national convention to urge all Chapters to support the Museum and the work that it only it could accomplish. She moved that each Division appoint a Museum Committee (which it did) and appropriate “a sum of money … for the running expenses of this sacred treasure house, which have heretofore been born [sic] by the Confederate Memorial Literary Society.” Her appeal is as relevant and as compelling today as it was then. (elision in Coski’s article.) [60]

This theme of the MOC holding Confederate “treasure” was  repeated in the UDC’s 100th anniversary issue, which announced about the MOC:

Among the treasures in our museum galleries you’ll find E.B.D. Julio’s famous painting “The Last Meeting of Lee and Jackson,” well as the world’s largest collection of Confederate art, artifacts, and memorabilia. [61]

When Henry E. Kidd, SCV Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia Department, writes of his visit to the MOC, his language is replete with reference to the museum as a sacred space.  Kidd writes, “Finally, we went into the flag storage room. It was like entering a holy place.” Asking for SCV members to support the MOC, Kidd writes:

As members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, we have been charged with presenting the true history of the South to future generations. To me, this also means that we have to preserve the South’s priceless heirlooms. I learned a lot about those priceless heirlooms recently on a visit to the museum.

Kidd worries about the MOC’s financial problems: “To be honest, I do not know what would happen to all the relics if the museum is forced to cut back. I hate the thought of General Lee’s HQ Flag or J.E.B. Stuart’s plumed hat falling into the hands of Yankee museums.” [62] This is the language of fear that sacred objects will fall into ‘infidel’ hands.

Though no one has yet claimed miraculous cures and there haven’t been any claims of statues shedding tears, the operations of the MOC largely replicate, albeit in a more modern version, medieval sacred sites at which visitors came to view and adore sacred objects, relics, and purchase some souvenir of their journey such as a prayer card.  Richmond was the capital city of the Confederacy and the White House of the Confederacy where Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederacy lived, is a highly charged memorial space, and serves as a Jerusalem and temple for this veneration of the Confederacy. [63] Instead of boxes of stones from the Holy Land brought back by pilgrims from Jerusalem, or ampules with oil for sale to pilgrims, [64] there are instead the myriad knickknacks to be purchased from the MOC’s Haversack store. Instead of pieces of the true cross, there are Confederate flags lovingly restored with their care rivaling the work on a religious reliquary.

The MOC collections are interpreted and organized as reliquaries. This is exemplified in an issue of the Journal of the Museum of the Confederacy which describes “The Museum of the Confederacy’s Robert E. Lee Collection.” The issue has an introductory hagiographical essay on Robert E. Lee by Emory M. Thomas, professor emeritus of the University of Georgia. The collection doesn’t have a bone or body part of Lee in a jewel encrusted case like a medieval relic, but does parallel these practices by listing a least half a dozen pieces of Lee’s hair and hair from his horse’s tail and mane. Further cataloged are dried leaves and flowers collected from Lee’s coffin, a wreath used at a memorial service for Lee, a piece of an apple tree said to have shaded a meeting of Lee and Grant at Appomattox, a chatelaine made from a button Lee gave to an admirer, a linen handkerchief, a tureen, and numerous other personal effects. [65]

The Confederacy no longer exists as a state, but the MOC’s collection of Confederate relics is very powerful strategy. When coupled with the numerous souvenirs offered at The Haversack MOC store, the MOC serves to facilitate the creation of a metaphysical Confederate nation in the mind of visitors and reader which the recipients of this vision can inhabit.  This residence in an imagined Confederate nation is enhanced by the stories told in the pages of MOC publications.  

Stories of the MOC Magazine

The Spring and Winter 2010 issues of MOC Magazine are typical in terms of their content, and their stories are good examples of how the MOC represents the Confederate experience to its followers.

In the Spring 2010 issue, “Rich Collections Attest to Family Ties of Three Confederate Generals,” by Ruth Ann Coski, details the biographies of three Confederate generals: Morgan, Hill, and Duke, each of whom had family ties to the other. These detailed biographies, describe multiple family events and experiences, from Ambrose Powell Hill’s mother being “caught up in the Baptist revival movement” of the 1840s and that “dancing, card games, and theatrics” were banned from his teenage home. You can also learn that Hill called his wife “Dolly” because “She had big, blue eyes and struck Hill as being like a china doll.”

The article has numerous pictures of various artifacts such as a shirt that Hill wore, a picture of Basil Duke, the uniform worn by Morgan, and numerous other objects. According to the article, “The Museum of the Confederacy has a rich collection of Morgan and Hill artifacts,” given by descendants of these individuals. What you will not learn is whether any of the families or individuals owned slaves. what they thought about slavery, or why they were fighting.  John Hunt Morgan died fighting for the Confederacy, yet readers don’t know why he fought for the Confederacy.  Rather, these men’s postbellum marriages and careers are detailed (if they survived the Civil War), but their views and actions regarding Reconstruction and the reactionary period of violent white terror is not detailed. Coski notes that Basil Duke was the co-editor of Southern Bivouac and editor of Southern Magazine. How Duke treated the issues of the Ku Klux Klan and race in those publications isn’t mentioned. Southern Magazine, known as New Eclectic Magazine, in 1870 ran an article “Notes on ‘Moral Discoveries in Africa’” which, amongst other, things proposed that the African might be a hybrid human-ape species, and proposed the further hybridization of Africans with apes to make a more useful worker. From the article:

And suppose the negro is to be regarded as a different species of the genus homo. Whether that difference has grown up by an independent evolution from lost tribes, which would have shown the connection between the existing races of men and also the chain of development from the quadrumana, and whether these differences of the negro are due to a later or less degree of this evolution (and in some things we have seen the degree is greater), or due to subsequent hybrisation with lost tribes of anthropoid apes, can be of no real importance in this inquiry. If the latter has been the process, it might be profitable to consider the possibility of domesticating some still untamed variety of gorilla or orang, with a view of obtaining other crosses with still less brains and still better developed physique for enduring labor and servitude, with greater docility than our last experiment, this Bantu African. [66]

Since Southern Magazine was one of the mainstream magazines published in the southern states and became the official organ of the Southern Historical Society (a Lost Cause society of ex-Confederates) it might be of interest to know the post-Civil War views on race of ex-Confederates and in particular the views of the people discussed in Coski’s article, particularly as Confederate organizations such as the UDC, both past and present, and today’s neo-Confederates have portrayed the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction as heroic ex-Confederates. The Tennessee Division of the United Daughters of the Confederate in 2010 published a two page defense of the Ku Klux Klan. [67] This MOC Magazine article specifically or the MOC in general doesn’t treat the issue of the ex-Confederates during Reconstruction, but will in this article give details as to the controversy of the proposal to name Lucy Lee Hill, Ambrose Hill’s daughter, the title “Daughter of the Confederacy” in 1898. The reader will learn that “Dolly” Morgan Hill adopted her old nickname “Kitty” after her husband died, and we can view the locket of Lucy Hill in a picture, but the issues of race and slavery are not discussed. [68]

Another article in the Spring 2010 MOC Magazine, “Stroll Through The Streets or Through The Collections to Meet the Women of Wartime Richmond,” by John Coski, is an account of various white women in Richmond during the Civil War. It includes anecdotes like that of Maggie Howell who, not recognizing Mary Custis Lee (Robert E. Lee’s wife), demanded that she leave Jefferson Davis’s pew at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Two sisters known as “The Cary Invincibles,” had “Starvation Parties” in support of the Confederacy where they only served James River water as “Jeff Davis” punch. Hettie Cary, we learn, “was widely hailed then and since as the most beautiful belle of wartime Richmond.” With pictures of the women in the article we learn of social life in Richmond amongst the white elite. However, the article omits the issue of slavery throughout. Who did the work on putting on these social functions? Did these women have slaves to help them with their social life? Did these slaves have names? What were the views of these white elite women of the Civil War, slavery and race that led them to undertake activities to support the war? What were the views of the slaves? The article doesn’t say. [69]

Winter 2010’s, “Antebellum Scrapbook Reveals ‘Flowering’ of Young J.E.B. Stuart,” by Ruth Ann Coski describes Stuart’s collecting of feathers and flowers in as much detail as his career. Pages are devoted to photographs of items he collected, yet the article, as it typical of the MOC, elides slavery:

Stuart was visiting the War Department when Secretary of War John Floyd received the news on October 17, 1859, of an insurrection in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, led by the notorious John Brown. After conferring with President James Buchanan, Floyd placed Col. Robert E. Lee in command of the situation. Stuart fetched Lee from nearby Arlington House and volunteered as his aide.

Given that today, Harper’s Ferry is a National Historic Park and the Brown is a significant figure in U.S. history, Coski’s description of John Brown as, “notorious,” begs the question, to whom?  Similarly, describing Brown’s actions as an “insurrection,” Coski neither tells MOC Magazine readers what initiated the Harper’s Ferry events, nor describes Stuart’s views on slavery, nor explores why was he so eager to assist Lee. Stuart’s beliefs may be lost to history, but some Virginians subsequently fought for the Union (most prominently, George Henry Thomas), A choice was possible, so why did Stuart choose to support the Confederacy? The question isn’t asked. [70]

Since at least 1994 (the extent of my own collection) the MOC’s Magazine and newsletters consistently present the Confederacy in the same way. Its politics, propagation of white supremacy and unequivocal support for slavery are buried under artifacts, anecdotes, trivia, curiosities, personal interest stories and drowned in nostalgia. The Magazine’s articles are not employed to tell the story of the Confederacy, rather, they distract from it.

Without such context, the reader is invited to identify with the people described and empathize not just with them but also, implicitly, their goals. The individuals described in MOC Magazine articles were human beings and often suffered, so it is important to see them as people. Yet, the great wrongs in human history are frequently not done by raving monsters but people, ordinary people in their everyday lives. However, the MOC Magazine articles never generate a sense of the tragedy of these people who believed in what they are doing, but what they believed in and what they did in the name of the Confederacy was attempt to preserve white supremacy and the enslavement of millions. Their self-interest in supporting the Confederacy is overlooked; in MOC Magazine articles, the Civil War is being fought, but why is obscured.  MOC Magazine, clogged with endless anecdotal stories, artifacts, curiosities and paintings, has no room (or no desire) to explore the larger story of the Confederacy; race and slavery are blocked out but there is an article about the making of Robert E. Lee nutcrackers for sale by the MOC. [71] As John Urry comments in his book The Tourist Gaze, “There is an absolute distinction between authentic history (continuing and therefore dangerous) and heritage (past, dead and safe). The latter, in short, conceals social and spatial inequalities, mask a shallow commercialism and consumerism, and may in part at least destroy elements of the building or artifacts supposedly being conserved. … Heritage is bogus history.” [72]

Perhaps every biographical story in MOC Magazine doesn’t need to include a reference to slavery and white supremacy and race, but the issue of slavery, white supremacy, and race must be part of the story of the Confederacy in the MOC Magazine since it was the reason for the Confederacy’s existence. The story of the Confederacy isn’t just old uniforms and anecdotes. It is the story of the massacre of African American Union troops at Poison Springs, Fort Pillow, Olustee, and elsewhere. It is the story of slaves escaping to Union lines. It is the story of rage against the Emancipation Proclamation. It is the story of the capture of free blacks by Confederate armies in Pennsylvania to be sold into slavery. It is the story of resistance of communities to being part of the Confederacy from western Virginia’s counties becoming the state of West Virginia, resistance in East Tennessee, to the story of Jones County. It is the story of former slaves joining the Union army. It is the story of bread riots and draft resistance. It is the story of the persecution and murder of dissidents, such as the Great Hanging at Gainesville in North Texas. It is the story of emancipation as Union armies reach communities. It is the story of slave owners shocked that their slaves really didn’t love them.

The MOC may claim that they are just telling the stories of their artifacts, holdings and human interest; if so, they are choosing to be bound by their artifacts and these stories to romanticize the Confederacy, but not be historically instructive. The MOC Magazine’s  stories understands the collection as relics and  stay within a framework of a sacred Confederacy, one that can be consumed as a national identity by visitors, members, viewers, and readers. Thus, the MOC is failing the public. In particular, they are failing those in the former Confederate states by binding them to a mythical, sacred, revered Confederate nation rather than helping them to process this historical experience, and understand it in a way that enables the nineteenth Century slave-holding Confederacy to be left behind, thus allowing residents of former Confederate states  to both share in the future of the United States’ multiracial democracy, and be cosmopolitans in a multipolar world.

Click here to read any of the parts in this series. Guest Commentator, Edward H. Sebesta, is co-editor of Neo-Confederacy: A Critical Introduction (University of Texas, 2008) and The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The ‘Great Truth’ of the ‘Lost Cause’ (University Press of Mississippi, 2010) Click here to contact Mr.  Sebesta.

[1] An overview of theories of nationalism is beyond the scope of this essay. For reading on the theory of nationalism, good books to start with are Benedict Anderson, “Imagined Communities,” 2nd Edition, Verso London, 2006 and Eric Hobsbawn and Terence Ranger, “The Invention of Tradition,” Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1992.

[2] Michael Billig, “Banal Nationalism,” Sage Publications, London, 1995.

[3] Prösler, Martin, “Museums and Globalization,” in “Theorizing Museums,” edited by Sharon Macdonald and Gordon Fyfe, “ Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, 1996, pages 21-44, quotation on page 35.

[4] Kaplan, Flora E.S., editor, “Museums and the Making of ‘Ourselves’: The Role of Objects in National Identity,” Leicester University Press, London 1994.

[5] Fladmark, J.M. editor, “Heritage & Museums: Shaping National Identity,” Donhead Publishing, Shaftesbury (England), 2000.

[6] If the Museum of the Confederacy tried to be the Museum of the Civil War in the American South it would just be a Museum of the Confederacy by another indirect name. What is the South? See

[7] No author, “The History of The Museum of the Confederacy,”, printed out 9/11/2011.

[8] Coski, John M., “Many ‘Southerners of Jewish Persuasion’ Embraced the Confederate Cause,” The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Spring 2011.

[9] Wright, Catherine M., “Flag Conservation Donors Bring Banners Back to Life,” The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Winter 2010.

[10] No author, “Two Major Fundraising Projects Reach Milestones,” The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Spring 2008, page 28.

11Coski, John M., “Support from Organizations Build Firm Foundation for Museum & White House Projects,” The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Summer 2009, pages 18-19.

[12] Rose, Rebecca, “Flag Sponsorships: ‘In the presence of the noble colors,’” The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine,” Winter 2006, pages 16-17.

[13] “A ‘Bright and Lasting’ Tribute: The Conservation of the Caroline Greys Flag,”

[14] “Hollywood” referred to here is not the Hollywood in California, but a cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.

[15] Wright, Catherine, “A ‘Bright and Lasting’ Tribute: The Conservation of The Caroline Greys Flag,” The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Summer 2011, pages 12-15.

[16] Kidd, Henry E., “The Museum of the Confederacy: Future in Doubt?,” Confederate Veteran, Nov./Dec. 2004, pages 16,17, 48.

[17] No author, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Winter 2008, page 3.

[18] In the following references I have given just one instance of it being offered, but often the items were offered repeatedly in the magazine. Additionally many could be found in their online store at the MOC’s online Haversack Store.

[19] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Fall 2007, page 37.

[20] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Summer 2007, page 30.

[21] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Summer 2007, page 31.

[22] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Winter 2006, page 22.

[23] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Winter 2006, page 22.

[24] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Fall 2006, page 28.

[25] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Fall 2005, page 37.

[26] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Summer 2005, page 28.

[27] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Winter 2010, page 21.

[28] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Winter 2010, page 21.

[29] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Fall 2009, page 34

[30] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Summer 2009, page 23.

[31] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Summer 2009, page 23.

[32] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Summer 2009, page 22.

[33] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Winter 2009, page 30.

[34] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Winter 2009, page 29.

[35] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Fall 2010, page 37.

[36] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Summer 2009, page 22.

[38] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Fall 2006, page 38.

[39] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Winter 2006, page 21.

[40] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Fall 2010, page 36; Winter 2011, page 30; Spring 2011, page 28.

[41] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Fall 2007, page 37 and Fall 2009, page 34.

[42] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Summer 2009, page 22.

[43] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Winter 2009, page 28.

[44] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Winter 2009, page 30.

[46] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Winter/Spring 2007, pages 29-31.

[48] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Winter 2006, pages 19-23.

[49] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Fall 2007, pages 34-39.

[50] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Spring 2007, pages 27-31.

[51] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Winter 2009, pages 28-31.

[52] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Spring 2009, pages 19-22.

[53] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Summer 2009, pages 21-23.

[54] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Winter 2010, pages 20-23.

[55] No author, Haversack Store Catalog, The Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Winter 2011, pages 28-31.

[57] Wharton, Annabel Jane, “Selling Jerusalem: Relics, Replicas, Theme Parks,” Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2006, page 50.

[58] Wharton, Annabel Jane, “Selling Jerusalem: Relics, Replicas, Theme Parks,” Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2006, pages 9-10.

[59] Coski, John M., ‘President Theodore Roosevelt Made a Pilgrimage to the Confederate Museum,” The Museum of the Confederacy Newsletter, Spring/Summer 2004, pages 7-8.

[60] Coski, John M., “The Museum & White House of the Confederacy,” UDC Magazine, Vol. 65 Nol. 7, August 2002, page 10.

[61] Advertisement of the Museum of the Confederacy, inside back cover, no author, UDC Magazine, Sept. 1994.

[62] Kidd, Henry E., “The Museum of the Confederacy: Future in Doubt?,” Confederate Veteran, Nov./Dec. 2004, pages 16, 17, 48.

[63] For sources on relics I recommend, “Selling Jerusalem: Relics, Replicas, Theme Parks,” by Annabel Jane Wharton, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2006; “Christian Materiality: An Essay on Religion in Late Medieval Europe,” by Caroline Walker Bynum, Zone Books, New York, 2011; “The Way to Heaven: Relic veneration in the Middle Ages,” Henk van Os, de Prom, Baarn, 2000.

[64] Wharton, Annabel Jane, “Selling Jerusalem: Relics, Replicas, Theme Parks,” Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2006, pages 22-27.

[65] Coski, John M., Collier Malinda W., “The Museum of the Confederacy’s Robert E. Lee Collection,” The Museum of the Confederacy Journal, No. 76, no date, with “An Interpretive Essay” by Emory M. Thomas.

[66] Johnson, Lawrence C., “Notes Upon ‘Moral Discoveries in Africa,’” The New Eclectic Magazine , Vol. 7, Nov. 1870, pages 590-603, reference on page 594. This magazine has several articles like this that just sicken the author.

[67] Parsons, Barbara Buchanan, “Confederate History Compendium of Tennessee,” published by the Tennessee Division United Daughters of the Confederacy, Knoxville 2010, pages 319-22.

[68] Coski, Ruth Ann, “Rich Collections Attest to Family Ties of Three Confederate Generals,” Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Spring 2010, pages 6-13.

[69] Coski, John M., “Stroll Through The Streets or Through The Collections to Meet The Women of Wartime Richmond,” Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Spring 2010, pages 14-17.

[70] Coski, Ruth Ann, “Antebellum Scrapbook Reveals ‘Flowering’ of Young J.E.B. Stuart,” Museum of the Confederacy Magazine, Winter 2010, pages 16-19.

[72] Urry, John, “The Tourist Gaze,” 2nd Ed., Sage Pub. London, 2002, page 99. Though Urry is commenting on museums in Britain its applicability to the MOC seems particularly appropriate.

Bookmark and Share
Click to go to a Printer Friendly version of this article
Click here to go to a menu of the Contents of this Issue

e-Mail re-print notice
If you send us an emaill message we may publish all or part of it, unless you tell us it is not for publication. You may also request that we withhold your name.

Thank you very much for your readership.

Mar 1, 2012 - Issue 461
is published every Thursday
Est. April 5, 2002
Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble
BC Question: What will it take to bring Obama home?
Road Scholar - the world leader in educational travel for adults. Top ten travel destinations for African-Americans. Fascinating history, welcoming locals, astounding sights, hidden gems, mouth-watering food or all of the above - our list of the world’s top ten "must-see" learning destinations for African-Americans has a little something for everyone.