COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — The National Civil War Museum is in the midst of what it hopes will be a fruitful, but costly, undertaking. An estimated $1.25 million is set to go into preserving and reconstructing Civil War-era artifacts and the creation of a new exhibit.
At a press conference on the morning of Oct. 25, the museum announced its plans to add a new exhibit, “Columbus: A Civil War City,” which will build upon pre-existing exhibits in the museum with a local focus. It will also highlight Horace King, a Black freed slave most known locally for being a master craftsman and bridgebuilder. King played a key role in constructing Civil War naval vessels, such as the C.S.S. Jackson and C.S.S. Chattahoochee, parts of which are displayed in the museum.
“This is about education, this is about economic development, it’s about tourism. This is about growth,” said Georgia State Representative Teddy Reese, a member of the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee and a key supporter of the project.
According to Reese, the exhibit addition and upgrades will not just aid Columbus financially, but offer valuable insight into the Civil War history of the area. He harkened back to a saying often repeated by his grandmother, “You cannot know where you’re going if you don’t know where you came from.”
The National Civil War Naval Museum aims to present the navies of both the Union and the Confederacy, said Executive Director Holly Beasley Wait. She continued on, saying the addition of the Columbus exhibit would only help to convey the story fairly.
“We’re going to talk about battles produced, why it was produced, and who worked in those factories along the riverfront and why they worked there,” Beasley Wait said.
Columbus is largely known as the site of the final battle of the Civil War. Many ships used during the conflict were also constructed locally due to the city’s proximity to the Chattahoochee River. According to the museum director, visitors have come from as far away as Australia to visit its current exhibits.
Although the museum began saving money for the project several years ago, as of now, it still needs to raise $750,000 in funding for the project. The initiative was set back due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a 2021 fire which damaged a museum storage facility and burned artifacts.
Initially, part of the funds raised for the exhibit were used to conserve arms and fantails of the C.S.S. Chattahoochee which were damaged in the fire. Should the museum reach its goal, the money will go toward continued reconstruction of the fantail, the fabrication of a small plexiglass engine where guests may observe the mechanics of Civil War-era ships, the Columbus exhibit and more.
If everything goes according to plan, and the museum is able to secure appropriate funding, it hopes to open “Columbus: A Civil War City” by the end of 2024.
“We’ve moved painfully through the past few years and we’re all but ready to go to construction,” said Beasley Wait.
She hopes increased visitation to the museum is a good sign. Pre-pandemic, the museum saw about 22,000 guests per fiscal year. At the close of its most recent fiscal year, that number had jumped by 1,500.
Beasley Wait said, “[The Civil War,] It’s an important topic and it’s the defining moment in American history … you’ve got to understand what happened and why these different things happen.”
To help support the museum’s project, Beasley Wait encouraged visiting the museum, becoming a member and enjoying various programming put on throughout the year. She also said the museum is open to receiving donations, since it is a nonprofit organization not backed by any government agency.
“It’s a learning tool, not just for kids,” said the mayor about the importance of the museum and its proposed improvements. Henderson continued, “Too many of us now, we get our information … by Googling on a phone. … This allows you to see what actual resources were available.”