The American Civil War threatened to tear the United States into two countries – one supporting slavery; one not. Initially, men flocked to join their local state regiments, which, in turn, were handed over to their national governments to form the Confederate or the Union armies. After three years of war, Abraham Lincoln appointed Ulysses S. Grant, his most successful general, as General-in-Chief of the Armies. General Grant would lead the entire Union Army to victory and preserve the United States.
Located within the Preserving the Nation gallery, the exhibit area “Grant’s Strategy and Unity of Command” explores President Lincoln’s appointment of General Grant as commander and Grant’s strategies leading to victory over the Confederacy. The exhibit area is demarcated from the rest of the gallery by changing the floor material to wood planks and incorporating exposed overhead beams, trusses, and wainscoting on the walls to provide visitors the sense that they have been transported to Massaponax Church, Va.
In a dedicated space, a short video presentation with narration, historical quotes, imagery, and sound effects introduces Grant’s strategy. From there visitors can engage in an in-depth learning experience by visiting one of the three interactive touch screen stations. Topics ranging from strategy to pivotal battle overviews give the audience the opportunity to personalize their visit by further exploring areas of the Civil War that are particularly appealing.
Along the right of the exhibit area, Grant’s “Total War” strategy is laid out with interpretative graphics, artifact cases, and imagery capturing the devastating campaigns that brought the nation’s bloodiest war to an end. The exhibit section “Total War” reminds us that the concept of total war includes not only defeating an enemy’s army on the battlefield, but that it also directly attacks an enemy’s capability to wage war by destroying factories and workshops, transportation systems, and agricultural production.
Larger-than-life full-body studio images of individual Soldiers lean against the back wall inviting visitors to look at the experiences of life in the field that Soldiers from each side endured. Soldiers of the past can become faceless, and the “Portrait Wall” exhibit section has been designed to emphasize that each Soldier had his own unique personality that he brought with him to the Civil War. The photographs represent both Confederate and Union Soldiers and include silkscreened quotations.
At the back left of the gallery, visitors are invited into a semi-enclosed theater that continues the church motif by incorporating wooden pews for visitors to use while watching the brief film. Here visitors will learn that the key components of General Grant’s strategy were focused around placing relentless pressure on the main Confederate armies and destroying the South’s capability to wage war. The movie ends with a brief look at the aftermath of the Civil War on our nation and on our Army.
Lastly, visitors are encouraged to stop by a listening station where first-person accounts from the Civil War can be heard relating experiences of Sherman’s March to the Sea, Sheridan in the Valley, and the Army of the Potomac’s campaigns in central Virginia.