Confederate Naval Museum "Reconstructed"

by D.V. Bowden

The following letter appeared in the Dec. 2001 edition of The Edgefield Journal, which has now ceased publication.

Columbus, GA - I was relieved to read your recent report on the state of affairs at Stone Mountain, Georgia, and to learn that Confederate heritage is still honoured there. I recently had the opportunity to visit several Confederate heritage sites, including Jefferson Davis’s home, Beauvoir, and the adjacent Presidential Library and museum in Biloxi, Mississippi. Happily, Confederate pride is abundant there, with no apparent concessions to today’s politically-correct climate. However, this is not the case at another [former] Confederate site in Georgia. I am speaking of the Confederate Naval Museum in Columbus, now Reconstructed as the Port Columbus National Civil War Naval Museum.

I have visited the museum twice in the last few years, once before and once after its Reconstruction. The new museum certainly has fine physical facilities—no faulting it there. The display of the C.S.S. Jackson’s burnt-out hull, with an added outline of what the complete ship looked like, is both eerie and inspiring. Unfortunately, technical sophistication and pretty exhibits do not make up for the politically-correct cleansing that the museum has undergone. Here are a few examples of the substantive changes in the museum’s content:

Before: Appropriate period flags of all Confederate states hung from the ceiling.

After: No flags.

Before: Portrait and biographical information on Horace King, former slave who earned his freedom and became an engineer, was prominently displayed. King helped design the ironclads built in Columbus, as well as bridges over the Chattahootchee and the stairs of the Alabama Capitol.

After: Black Confederates aren’t politically correct. All references to King have been omitted from the new museum.

Before: Many items were available in the gift shop featuring the Confederate battle flag (and similar navy jack), and it flew outside the museum.

After: The battle flag is verboten. Not only in the gift shop, but everywhere. The Stars and Bars is used wherever a Confederate flag is needed, but no flags featuring the St. Andrew’s cross are to be found. At least they haven’t actually airbrushed the flags out of the photos and paintings (yet!). An enormous Union gridiron gets top billing on the huge ship’s halyard flagpole outside. A smaller Stars and Bars flies beneath, among numerous naval flags.

Before: Numerous references in the exhibits to Confederate valor and ingenuity.

After: The new exhibits are a paean to the glories of the mighty Yankee navy. They seem to view the Confederacy’s attempt io create a navy as a thing to be pitied for its inadequacies rather than admired for its resourcefulness. In addition, the museum features a totally new (and seemingly inappropriate) recreation of a section of a wooden Union warship (as well as a recreation of the USS Monitor). I guess they felt a need to “balance” the Confederate ships with some Union ones. Also, the new interactive display, designed to give visitors the feeling of being inside an ironclad during a battle, features a film of a Yankee crew in a skit blowing up a Confederate ironclad with a mine. Great. As if I couldn’t tell from the burnt-out hull of the C.S.S. Jackson who won.

In short, the National Civil War Naval Museum is a technical wonder, but a historical disappointment and a cultural atrocity, in true Madison Avenue style, it is “New and Improved” with 75% less Confederate heritage. It retains the form of the Confederate Naval Museum, but little of the substance. However, I encourage every Southron to visit once, if only to see the somber and awe-inspiring display of the C.S.S. Jackson. Just be sure to let the museum personnel know how you feel about its Reconstruction, in other words: “ALL HANDS ON DECK! PREPARE TO REPEL BOARDERS!”

CSS Jackson
The burnt-out hull of the C.S.S. Jackson, and a metal-frame outline of what the superstructure looked like.

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