Hundreds honor Confederate veterans at museum opening

By Pat Lewandowski

The battle is over.

This time the victors were not Union troops, but rather the decendents of Civil War veterans, whose lives ended peacefully in Alabama’s only hospital and nursing home for sons and daughters of the Confederacy.

In operation from 1902 to 1939, the home provided care for more than 850 elderly veterans, their wives and widows of fallen veterans. More than 20 buildings and dozens of artifacts from that era were preserved, but the park located in this Chilton County hamlet could not put a face on the men and women who lived here — until now.

Hundreds of people gathered around the new Confederate Memorial Park Museum building for a 10 a.m. ribbon-cutting Saturday as the sounds of a Dixie band drifted into the woods surrounding the 102-acre site. Civil War re-enactors from across the state added a touch of drama to the moment, as did women who showed off dresses from the period.

Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel, said the museum will play a larger role in a cultural trail that links the early days of the Confederacy with the final moments of those who served on the field of battle and the homefront. The state will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War from 2011 through 2015.

"Confederate Memorial Park is within 30 minutes of Montgomery and we would like to see it play a role in a cultural trail," Sentell said after the dedication ceremony. "The park will have a big role in the sesquintennial. While the home tells a personal story, it is just minutes from the Capitol and the roots of Confederate political history. Montgomery is the only place in this country where a separate nation was organized."

Bill Rambo, site director at Confederate Memorial Park, welcomed more than 1,000 supporters, re-enactors, descendants of veterans and state officials to the museum opening and thanked the people and the agencies that played a part in the building effort. He also recognized the direct descendents of "inmates" at the hospital and relatives of staff members. After a few chuckles from the crowd, he explained that "inmates" was the word in use during the period.

After a few words from the executive director of the Alabama Historical Commission, John Neubaurer, Rambo cut a red ribbon with a cavalry officer’s saber to open the museum. A platoon of Confederate re-enactors fired a rifle salute while an artillery battery shook the ground with a cannon blast.

According to information provided by Historical Commission members, the museum building replicates the construction style found in the early days of the 20th century and houses a collection of more than 60 artifacts on loan from the Alabama Department of Archives and History. The first item visitors see is a woodcarving done by a veteran who was cared for at the hospital. The depiction of a young Confederate soldier facing away from an old grizzled veteran captured the theme of the museum. On the left, the veteran carved: "As we was ’61-’65" and "As we are now, 1919." The museum showcases the the operation of the Confederate veterans’ home with 35 cases and panels, along with six interactive multimedia displays that encourage visitors to fire an artillery piece, listen to war-time music and listen to the words of the veterans who survived and were cared for at the home.

Reaction from museum visitors was positive.

"I’m happy to see us promote Alabama’s rich history," said Robert Reams, commander of the Northwest Central Brigade, Alabama Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. "I visited Maine recently and toured some museums. They were not afraid to show pride in their state. We in Alabama have a rich history that needs telling, not hiding."

Richard and Joyce Bradley traveled from Millbrook to visit the museum, just off Alabama 143. The couple said the displays and pictures "put a face on the inmates who were here," Joyce Bradley said after touring the museum. "This is a real asset to the people of Alabama."

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