Civil War exhibition opens at Tennessee State Museum

African American couple, McGee Family of Knoxville, 1865 to 1885

African American couple, McGee Family of Knoxville, 1865 to 1885

An exhibition exploring the experiences of Tennesseans during the Civil War and Reconstruction opened last week at the Tennessee State Museum in downtown Nashville, and is part the citywide commemoration of the Battle of Nashville.

‘What Is To Become of the People: The Civil War and Reconstruction in Tennessee’ is free to the public and will be on view in the museum’s Changing Galleries through June.

Many rare artifacts are showcased telling the personal stories of individuals who lived during those tumultuous times. Visitors will learn about the lives of civilians during military occupation, how women confronted challenges on the home front, and about soldiers fighting in pivotal conflicts such as the Battle of Nashville.

The exhibit examines how many African Americans freed themselves during the war and how the state officially ended slavery. It also shows the ways in which Tennessee’s Reconstruction story was different from the rest of the South, with former Confederates, African Americans, and Unionists struggling to create a new kind of state. The exhibition includes a color study that was made for a full-scale cyclorama of the Battle of Nashville by Louis Kindt. The study was done about 20 years after the battle but was never commissioned as a finished work.

There are hundreds of artifacts from the museum’s collections included in the exhibit, including Civil War military flags; uniforms; and weapons; historic documents; photographs of Tennessee civilians; soldiers, and landscapes; numerous artworks from the period; women’s and children’s clothing, farm equipment; and many other objects.

These artifacts help visitors learn about the experiences of many Tennesseans from different backgrounds during these important years in the state’s history. There are displays portraying a school for freed people and a West Tennessee merchant’s store which was burned by Union soldiers.

Other highlights include a Bible owned by R.S. Matthews, 6th Tennessee Infantry, C.S.A. During the Battle of Chickamauga, Matthews carried this Bible in his breast pocket; a bullet struck the Bible, saving him from injury. See Confederate Brigadier General Otho F. Strahl’s uniform coat, 1861 to 1864, and William G. Brownlow’s coat and vest, worn at his gubernatorial inauguration in 1865.

There is a ledger containing entries related to the 2nd Regiment, West Tennessee Infantry of African Descent/61st United States Colored Troops, while stationed at LaGrange, Moscow, and Memphis, Tenn., July 8, 1863 to November 28, 1865.

See a church pew from Wilson Creek Meeting House (Primitive Baptist), in Triune, TN, with carvings made by a soldier from Company A, 38th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment, U.S.A. on the back. On display is a work contract between former slave Lucy Moore and John S. Fielder from 1866. Don’t miss the rare photograph of notorious guerrilla Champ Ferguson, one of two former Confederates sentenced to death after the war, and the ball and chain he wore while imprisoned before his execution.

‘What Is To Become of the People’: The Civil War and Reconstruction in Tennessee is free to the public and will be on view through June 7, 2015. For more information, visit .