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Museum Review: Confederate Memorial Hall Museum, New Orleans, Louisiana

[ 33 ] January 8, 2013 |

Having never actually been to a museum dedicated to the Confederacy before, I had to go to the Confederate Memorial Hall Museum in New Orleans while attending the American Historical Association meeting last weekend.

What can one say about such a place? The building was erected in 1891. It’s an old Gilded Age mansion that I don’t think has even been renovated on the inside since construction. That’s appropriate because I think the people making up the core visitors hold the social values of 1891. It turns out that not only was the Civil War not about slavery, but that there’s no reason to even mention that black people exist. Literally, there’s not one mention of a black person, even as a supposedly loyal servant or something. It turns out that guns and swords are far, far more important. As was that big bad man Benjamin “Beast” Butler. And when you combine the fact that your coolest artifact outside of some battle flags is Benjamin Butler’s chamber pot with the fact that you don’t allow pictures to of anything, meaning I can’t add it to my collection of pictures of American historical toilets (I recommend the 3-seater at the home of Hudson River School artist Thomas Cole), it shows that not only does the museum lack any positive social value, but it can’t even provide the expected negative social value that I was hoping to get by going to one of the United States’ worst museums. Essentially, I see no reason for this museum to exist.

And yes, I was incredibly fearful that someone I know would see me enter or exit the museum.


Comments (33)

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  1. dp says:

    I have driven by that thing hundreds of times, and never felt the urge to stop and enter it.

    Who even maintains it?

  2. There’s a school named for Benjamin Butler in Lowell, but as far as memorials go, it’s tough to beat being held up as the main enemy in a Confederate museum.

  3. Thom says:

    I like this banner on the website, from the Times-Picayune in 1891: “There is not another building in the city like it in interior finish or contents.” We can hope there isn’t.

  4. blowback says:

    But is the Confederate Memorial Hall Museum any better or worse than the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which after all celebrates genocide and ethnic cleansing?

    Perhaps you could show us a picture of the three seater – that would be far more interesting than any Confederate Memorial Hall Museum.

  5. LeeEsq says:

    Related, courtesy of Jonathan Bernstein’s blog, I was able to read President Garfield’s inaugeration speech. Reading his inaugeration speech makes it clear that Garfield’s assasination was actually a pretty big strategy. A big part of his speech concerned the rights of African Americans and how there is no room under the Constitution to treat him like a disenfranchised peasentry and argued that it would be better for everybody if they were given full rights now peacefully rather having another struggle over it latter. Garfield also wanted to implement a universal right to education via federally funded and run public schools.

    Its highly unlikely that Garfield would have been able to prevent segregation from emerging but he would have probably made some progress in terms of civil rights for African-Americans. If he was able to create a federal public education system, it would have been better for everybody to.

    • John says:

      In the first place, Charles Guiteau was a madman, and his decision to assassinate Garfield had nothing to do with Garfield’s positions on African-American issues.

      In the second place, Arthur’s faction, the Stalwarts (with whom Guiteau madly identified himself), was in fact the old Grant faction, which had generally been more closely identified with Reconstruction and equal rights for blacks than the reformers who associated with Garfield.

      Is there any reason to believe Garfield’s racial policies would have been particularly different from Arthur’s? I guess Arthur didn’t get an inaugural address, but my understanding is that Garfield’s remarks on race were pretty close to the 1881 standard Republican orthodoxy.

    • witless chum says:

      Once the Republicans agreed to end military occupation of the South, the game was up. After the Compromise of 1876, there weren’t going to be any more free elections until, what, the 1960s? Democracy was only going to happen in the 19th century South to the extent that the ex-Confederates were cowed by federal troops from reimposing their rule by force.

      The Republican rhetoric from Washington was just that, no matter who was mouthing it.

    • Randy says:

      Garfield may have had relatively good views on the rights of African Americans, but he also led the efforts to deny John Menard his seat in the House in 1868. He said that it was “too early to admit a Negro to Congress.”

  6. rea says:

    I’d want to see Ben Butler’s spoons . . .

  7. Richard says:

    I’ve been to New Orleans a couple dozen times but never visited the Confederate Museum. But its close to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art which is very cool and doing some great things these days (including live concerts during the summer).

    I trust that you made it to Frenchman Street and the other new spots in the Marigny?

  8. And yes, I was incredibly fearful that someone I know would see me enter or exit the museum.

    Just tell them who you are, and say you were trying to organize the employees. That will smooth everything over.

  9. Incontinentia Buttocks says:

    It turns out that not only was the Civil War not about slavery, but that there’s no reason to even mention that black people exist. Literally, there’s not one mention of a black person, even as a supposedly loyal servant or something.

    So should we see the current Neo-Confederate obsession with “Black Confederates” as a sign of progress…at least in American society as a whole if not among Neo-Confederates themselves?

  10. JohnMcC says:

    If you just had to have a picture of Gen Butler’s chamber pot, you could buy a reproduction and take the picture in the comfort of your own home! But wait! There’s more! It makes a wonderful salad bowl!

    • rea says:

      Benjamin Butler’s chamber pot

      I don’t know about the one at the museaum, but the linked example, bearing Butler’s picture, was used to express your opinion of Butler . . .

  11. Murc says:

    Seriously? How the hell do you have a Confederate museum in the deep south that doesn’t even have any interesting weapons or equipment in it?

    And in New Orleans, for gods sake. Nothing that’s even a little fascinating on, say, the laughable attempts by the Confederacy to control the Mississippi?

    So it managed to be both appalling AND a failure. Points for emulating the Confederacy itself, I guess, but…

  12. arghous says:

    I’ve been to the museum, and was most struck by Pope Pius IX’s gift to Jefferson Davis of a personally-hand-woven crown of thorns. What a martyr Davis must have been.

    But no positive social value? The Butler fetish did ironically point out that the genteelness of the Southern Lady wasn’t all that it’s made out to be.

  13. merl says:

    Don’t you mean Spoons Butler?

  14. Anonymous says:

    Yosemite Sam; My orders from Gen’ral Lee is to hold the Massi-Dixi line, and no Yankee’s a acrossin’ it.

    Bugs: General Lee! Why the war between the states ended almost ninety years ago.

    Sam; I ain’t no Clock-Watcher. And untils I hear from Gen’ral lee official, I’m blastin’ any Yankee that sets foot on southern soil.

    Southern Fried Rabbit

  15. The Pale Scot says:

    Comment fail. The Bugs Bunny above is from I.


    I doubt the veterans of Vicksburg etc. would have considered “the attempt by the Confederacy to control the Mississippi” laughable.

  16. Corey says:

    Have you been to the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond? It’s not remotely Lost Cause-ist and has a lot of very cool artifacts.

    • PBF says:

      I seem to remember some fine exhibits about southern soldiers and not very much about slaves or slavery. This was about ten years ago and I was already a bit put off by Monument Ave.

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