Civil War Fades as an Attraction

Museums and sites seek broader audience
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted May 27, 2019 4:04 PM CDT
Civil War Fades as an Attraction
The Mifflin Guard Infantry, volunteer Civil War reenactors, portray Union soldiers at Gettysburg National Military Park in 2016.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Museums and historical sites are making changes to appeal to a broader audience in the face of declining interest in the Civil War. Data from the National Park Service shows that its five major Civil War battlefield parks drew 3.1 million visitors in 2018, down from about 10.2 million in 1970. Gettysburg, the best-known battle site, had about 950,000 visitors last year; that was 14% of its draw in 1970 and the fewest visitors since 1959, the Wall Street Journal reports. In response, museums and sites are trying to present a fuller picture of history. Often, they focused on "who shot who where," said one history teacher, "with no explanation of why people were there shooting each other." The American Civil War Museum that just opened in Richmond includes information on slavery and the war’s effect on civilians. In response to the narrative that slavery wasn't a core issue in the war, its director says the museum is taking the war's history "back from the crazies."

The number of Civil War re-enactors also appears to be dropping. Louis Varnell competed with several military-memorabilia shops when he opened his near Chickamauga Battlefield in Georgia in the 2000s; now, only his remains. People who were interested in reenacting Civil War battles in costume are now too old or are more interested in reenacting as Vietnam War troops or cowboys, he said. "Cowboy re-enacting is where bitter, jaded Civil War re-enactors go," Varnell told the Journal. A Civil War reenactor in Georgia said, "The younger generations are not taught to respect history, and they lose interest in it.” (Vietnam War veterans welcomed reenactments.)

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