The Story

American Civil War History In the Cause of Liberty, the Center's flagship exhibit, is housed in the 1861 Tredegar Gun Foundry.    Upon entering the newly constructed pavilion, visitors begin their tour with “What Caused the Civil War?” an interactive film which orients your visit. As you continue through the exhibit, enjoy rotating artifacts, detailed timelines, unique hands-on activities, additional films, and more. Continue to move into the War years (1861-1865) and finish with the post-war “Legacies” section which helps to put our world today into perspective.

The exhibit presents the story of the Civil War, its causes, course, and its legacies from the viewpoints of Unionists, Confederates, and African Americans -- the war's three main participant groups. The Center's interpretive approach comes from a 2002 Center-sponsored symposium in which Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James McPherson was asked why the Confederates fought. "The central tragedy, the great irony of the war," he observed, "is that all three groups were fighting for the legacy of the American Revolution, but they profoundly disagreed about what that legacy was." The war was a matter of honor and principle for all three as each acted to uphold its own vision of America. Each remembered the war differently as well, and to this day the war means different things to different people.

Our interpretation traces all three stories and demonstrates how each group played a different role in the nation's central drama. The presentation weaves battles and leaders, guns and soldiers into the larger drama of how the war affected Northerners and Southerners, men and women, and blacks and whites. The dynamic interplay of three peoples at war changed America forever and created a vastly different country from the one that existed before the war. The exhibit shows how the war produced the basic structure and character of the United States we know today.
In 1860-1861, the United States split apart. Why did the Southern states leave the Union? Was war inevitable? What were the combatants fighting about? You can explore these and other questions at the Center and learn what motivated Unionists, Confederates, and African Americans.

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Was it a "war for Southern independence" or a rebellion against legitimate authority? Could a political solution yet be found? Would foreign countries recognize the Confederate States of America as a separate nation? Would the status of slaves change?

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What effects do you think the war continues to have on America? We hope that you will visit the American Civil War Center to learn more about how the Civil War and its aftermath shaped our country today.

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