National Museum of the Army Visit

The family and I spent an enjoyable day on Monday Nov. 16 visiting the new National Museum of the Army, which opened officially November 11. The museum is located on the grounds of Fort Belvoir, VA., about 16 miles souith of DC. Access is by timed entry, and for the moment, even though they are keeping the numbers limited, getting tickets is relatively easy: https://www.thenmusa.org/

Given the broad canvas it tries to paint, the museum inevitably makes only a broadbrush approach to several issues. For example, Reconstruction and the military occupation of the Confederacy is given, literally, one paragraph on a descriptive poster. By contrast, recent events, e.g. the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are covered in great detail, probably because they are fresh in people’s minds and there are thousands of artifacts available for display.

Nevertheless, given the limitations, the museum succeeds in giving the visitor an overall understanding of the army and its evolution, traditions, and objectives. The hundreds of images, artifacts, and movies (some contemporary, some new) are a visual feast. As a result, this is a truly modern museum, a multi-media approach which may not satisfy the traditionalist, but will give the broader audience what it is looking for — information and understanding.

The Civil War section is fairly comprehensive, but it lacks many elements which could have made it better. For example, while there is a small display about medicine in the war and its problems, nurses and their important role are not even mentioned. Also, and this is a personal gripe, this section does not note that in fact 98% of the men who fought for the Union were not in the army per se. They were in Winfield Scott’s misguided creation, the “The U.S. Volunteers.” Over time the regulars and volunteers were effectively merged, but senior officers from the regulars always had two separate ranks. On the other hand, the volunteer officers only had one and were always treated as second-class leaders who would never, they knew, be given a field command over a West Pointer.

I highly recommend a visit, which I know you will enjoy. And if you have time, the Marine Museum in Quantico is just about 20 minutes drive further south on I-95.

Below is a picture from the Civil War exhibit on the artillery and one of me in front of the building.

Author: geneofva

Author of "Citizen-General: Jacob Dolson Cox and the Civil War Era," and of seven more Civil War books -- with more to come!!

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