- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2007

In 1891, Confederate veterans of Louisiana founded Memorial Hall, also known as Confederate Memorial Hall, as a meeting place. Later it became a repository for memorabilia and artifacts from the War for Southern Independence.

On Camp Street near historic Lee Circle in New Orleans, Confederate Memorial Hall is situated in an area now called the Warehouse District or the Museum District, approximately nine blocks south of the French Quarter and central business district.

Confederate Memorial Hall is a precious shrine of Confederate history, virtually unchanged since its construction more than 115 years ago. The Romanesque masonry exterior invites visitors to step into the past. Once inside, they cross heart-pine floors that creak under each footstep.

At eye level are paneled walls, and overhead rise the exposed beams of a cathedral ceiling, all in cypress from the bayous of Louisiana. The soft bronze tones of the understated interior lighting treat visitors to an authentic 19th-century atmosphere.

Unlike most museums, the edifice is as much an artifact as the relics it houses. On May 27 and 28, 1893, approximately 60,000 mourners filed through Memorial Hall to view the body of Jefferson Davis, lying in state before being transported to Richmond for permanent burial at Hollywood Cemetery. Throughout the early decades of its existence, Confederate Memorial Hall was the gathering place for several annual reunions of the United Confederate Veterans.

Confederate Memorial Hall Museum owns the second-largest collection of Civil War memorabilia in the United States, including more than 5,000 artifacts housed on site and nearly 90,000 pages of documents archived at Tulane University, on permanent loan.

Historic items include more than 125 authentic Confederate battle flags, including that of Wheat’s Battalion “Louisiana Tigers,” stained with the blood of its commander, Maj. Roberdeau Wheat, killed at the Battle of Gaines’ Mill in Virginia.

Also on display are the uniform frock coats of Gens. P.G.T. Beauregard, Braxton Bragg, Franklin Gardner, Daniel Adams, Joseph Davis and Albert Blanchard as well as uniforms, weaponry and personal possessions of the common soldier.

Perhaps most precious of the priceless artifacts is one of the three original Confederate battle flags hand-sewn by the Carey sisters of Baltimore after the Battle of First Manassas at the direction of the flag’s designer, Beauregard.

The first century of Confederate Memorial Hall’s existence was successful and, in general, secure, but the early 21st century brought unprecedented challenges to the museum and its trustees.

In 1998, the University of New Orleans laid claim to ownership of the building and commenced a legal fight that lasted five years and cost the museum $600,000 in legal fees. In large part thanks to the intervention of Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster, the case finally was settled in 2003, with Confederate Memorial Hall retaining title to the building — but with the provision that it make significant and expensive physical renovations by 2013. The trustees of Confederate Memorial Hall began a struggle to find sources of funding for those renovations.

Then, on Aug. 29, 2005, came Hurricane Katrina.

Although Confederate Memorial Hall avoided significant structural damage and miraculously escaped the vandalism and looting that followed the storm, it is imperiled by the lingering financial impact of the hurricane.

Confederate Memorial Hall receives no government support, relying entirely on admission charges and private donations for its operating revenue. The museum normally receives about 4,500 visitors during the last five months of the year, but no post-hurricane visitors were received from September through December 2005.

Since its reopening on Jan. 7, 2006, visitor traffic is off a staggering 81 percent (1,924 visitors in the first seven months of 2006, versus 9,852 during the comparable period the year before). Although a special relief fund appeal in spring 2006 was successful, the amount raised only funded about five months of museum operations.

Upon the opening of Confederate Memorial Hall in 1891, Col. J.A. Chalaron of the Washington Artillery wrote:

“To these sacred and inspiring objects we should extend the fullest measure of our love and protection. We should guard them with the tender care with which a mother watches over her child. We must see that they are transmitted to our descendants as object lessons, which will inspire them with a reverence for the past and excite in them a determination to emulate the courage, patriotism, and devotion to duty of those who have gone before.”

Of Confederate Memorial Hall Museum’s current collection of artifacts, 90 percent were donated directly by Confederate veterans or their immediate families.

The staff and Board of Directors of Confederate Memorial Hall Museum of New Orleans cordially invite you to visit this historic Confederate shrine and to support the museum during this period of unprecedented challenge.

For more information, contact Confederate Memorial Hall, 929 Camp St., New Orleans, LA 70130 or phone 504/523-4522.

Rebecca Cumins worked for four years as an interpretative ranger for the National Park Service at Manassas National Battlefield Park and served on the Prince William County Historical Commission. She is a member of the Board of Directors of Confederate Memorial Hall.

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