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Surveying the Civil War

There are few places in the United States so impacted by the Civil War as Atlanta. The city famously burned after Union general Sherman captured it in 1864. Today, nearly 150 years later, the events are still a striking part of the Atlanta story.

There are plenty of places around the city that shed light on the Civil War battles that happened here and the scars that they left. But for visitors who want to get a broad overview of the war, its causes and effects, the best place to start is the Atlanta History Center. This museum has a variety of exhibits that deal with Atlanta’s past, including a large section called ‘Turning Point: The American Civil War Experince.’

‘This is one of the one of the largest collection s of Civil War memorabilia on display in the country,’ said Brandi Wigley, the museum’s senior manager of community initiatives. ‘It tells the human side of the Civil War.’

The exhibit has all of the common display pieces that you would expect to find: guns, uniforms, cannons, maps, photographs, etc. But it also does a great job of distilling the major causes and movements of the Civil war into easy-to-understand pieces. Visitors begin in a section calld ‘War of Ideals,’ that deals with the motivations of each side that led to the outbreak of war. As the experience progresses, displays mark the turning points that took place in each year of the war, and mark the important shifts in strategy, economy and national attitude that eventually led to the Union’s victory.

I really appreciated the way that the museum made the war easy for me to understand. And the artifacts on display helped to illustrate some of the realities of the conflict that aren’t apparent simply from reading a text pannel. One of the most striking images I came across was a collection of ‘war ordinance’ — dozens of shells, mortars and cannonballs that were used in battle. The small ones were the size of a grapefruit; the larger ones could be twice the size of a modern bowling ball. The size and number of these weapons helped me to understand just how scary action on the battlefield must have been, and how much bravery was displayed by those who fought.

The exhibit ended with a poingant discussion of reconstruction, reconcilliation and the legacy that the war left on Atlanta and the nation. Many of the issues at play in the mid-19th century still affect us today. But great, moving exhibits like this can help us all to understand just how far we’ve come.


The exhibit showcases both artifacts and attitudes.


War Ordinance


Re-creation of a Confederate encampment

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.