The sword Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee had at his side when he surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant is returning to Appomattox as the centerpiece of a new museum examining the post-Civil War struggle to heal the nation.
The uniform Lee wore that day in 1865 also will be on display Saturday when the Museum of the Confederacy opens an 11,700-square-foot museum within a mile of where the war effectively ended.
The Appomattox museum is the first in a regional system planned by the Museum of the Confederacy to make its vast collection of Confederate artifacts and manuscripts more accessible.
Only about 10 percent of its holdings are on display at any one time at the Richmond museum, located next to the former Confederate White House. The other museums are planned for the Fredericksburg area and Hampton Roads, perhaps Fort Monroe.
All told, 454 uniforms, muskets, swords, documents, flags and other artifacts will be displayed at the Museum of the Confederacy-Appomattox. The town of Appomattox kicked in $350,000 for the $10 million project.
Waite Rawls, CEO and president of the Museum of the Confederacy, said the museum’s message will reflect its location.
“Appomattox is one of those words you can say anywhere in the world and people know what you’re talking about, like Waterloo,” he said. “Appomattox is the very metaphor for the end of the Civil War and the reunification of the nation.”
The new museum, about 90 miles west of Richmond, will chart the start of the war, its end and its impact on everyone from women to freed slaves.
The sword is seen at Lee’s side in many paintings of the momentous meeting with Grant at Appomattox to sign the document of surrender on April 9, 1865. The Army of Northern Virginia’s formal surrender followed three days later, effectively ending the war that left about 630,000 dead.
The sword has been freshly conserved after years of polishing erased much of the golden luster from the brass. The nearly 3 1/2-foot sword now sparkles, from the lion head on its pommel to the gilded relief on its steel blade. It has an ivory grip.
The sword was intended for ceremonial use. There is no evidence Lee used it in battle.
The sword and scabbard, along with Lee’s uniform, were given to the museum by the Confederate leader’s descendants.
The Appomattox museum will complement the attractions at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, said the park’s historian, Patrick A. Schroeder. The 1,695-acre park includes the McLean House, where Lee and Grant met April 9, 1865.