It’s quite a long name, but The Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History which is located in Kennesaw, Georgia is an unusual museum because of it’s combined exhibits centering around trains.
The Four Main Exhibits
The museum is split up into four sets of exhibits. I was originally told that it was a “Civil War museum” and since I am interested in history, that was intriguing to me. But I was misled because it really is based on the railroads of the United States during the time of the Civil War. The four segments of the museum consist of:
- How the railways were the lifeline of the Civil War
- The Glover Machine Works, which produced castings for the railroad industry after the war
- A children’s play area
- Everything you ever wanted to know about The General, a locomotive that belonged to the Confederate Army but was stolen by a group of Union soldiers.
Railroads and the Civil War
In the admission hall there are four statues, one in each corner of the room. These statues are of four Confederate generals in the Civil War, one of them of course being Robert E. Lee. Each statue has a plaque next to it describing the person, his responsibilities during the war, and a bit about his life after the war. From that room, after tickets are purchased, the rest of the experience begins.
One of the most interesting parts of the museum is the first area guests visit once inside. It tells a bit about the railroads in the United States during the Civil War and how each side, the Union army and the Confederate army, used the railroad to their advantage to ship supplies and men where they were most needed. I found the displays interesting because they had an actual Confederate and Union army soldier uniforms and mess kits of both sides. They also had guns and swords that each army carried.
One of the more interesting items displayed was a Confederate flag that was supposed to be turned in when the war was over, but the flag bearer who had carried that particular flag hid it, and it remained in his family until it was turned over to the museum in 2001. It was displayed in low light as it is disintegrating, but it was fascinating to see pictures of it down though the years with the original flag bearer. This area also displayed period dress for men, women and children.
The Children’s Area
The next part of the museum was specifically for children. There was a playroom with train puzzles and books and comfortable children’s cubes to sit on. There was a train table with moving trains that children could play with. There was a train made of cushions that children could climb on. In the next room was a train simulator where children could walk inside what looked like a train engine station, and pretend to drive a train on a computer simulator.
There was also a play dry goods store, and a small room with a rope bed and costumes from the Civil War period that children could wear. Children ages three to eight years old would enjoy this area the most.
The Glover Machine Works
The children’s area led to the Glover Machine Works display. The Glover Machine Works began in 1892 in Marietta, Georgia and in 1897 came under the direction of John Wilder Glover. The machine works specialized in building and repairing steam engines that would help rebuild the south after the Civil War. It was one of the most well known companies in the southern part of the U.S.
The display includes pictures and personal property of John Glover and his family. It also includes life sized figures working in reproduced machine work areas such as an assembly line, a pattern shop for machine parts, and two life sized replicas of trains in the process of being built. This area is very interesting to people who are interested in mechanics and technology. The figures are placed so that one might think they are real and actually working on machines at first glance.
The Great Locomotive Chase
At the end of the Glover Machine Works display is the waiting area for the movie about “The Great Locomotive Chase.” If you are unfamiliar with this event, as I was, it tells the true story of how union spies, led by a man named James Andrews, snuck behind Confederate lines and actually captured and took off with a locomotive named, “The General.” The plan was to cut supplies to the southern states. Unfortunately for this band of brave men, the Confederate conductor of The General, William Fuller, realized what was happening, and so began the chase.
The movie adventure is quite interesting as actors, portraying Andrews and Fuller each tell their side of the story. Two movies were made about this event, one starring Charlie Chaplin and one, a Disney movie starring Fess Parker as the Union spy.
Upon exiting the theater, one comes upon a room that showcases pictures of all the men involved in the story of The General, and what happened to each participant. Some of the men were given medals of honor for their courage in attempting to steal this locomotive. The actual medal of honor of Sgt. John Scott is hanging on the wall and the museum is quite proud of having the medal in its possession. Personally I thought the movie was the highlight of the museum experience until we exited that exhibit room and came to face to face with the actual locomotive “The General.” It was quite exciting to be able to see it up close and personal in a room inside of a building. The fact that this museum was able to obtain such a wonderful piece of history will forever stand out in my mind as a highlight I want to share with visiting family and friends.
The exit door from the locomotive exhibit goes directly to the gift shop and the museum visit is over. The gift shop is small but has many gifts and souvenirs about the Civil War and The General. It also has cookbooks of southern recipes and the requisite t-shirts for tourists.
I enjoyed the historical displays of actual Civil War artifacts, but was actually a bit bored in this museum for half of our time due to the fact that the children’s area takes up a large part of the museum, as does the Glover Machine Shop. Since I am not mechanically or technically inclined at all, I had no interest in this area, and neither will others who are not interested in mechanics.
The saving grace of this museum was the movie about the Great Locomotive Chase, and being able to see the actual train that was stolen. This museum would be interesting to families with young children, those who are mechanically inclined, and those interested in trains. For the rest who might consider going, the low admission price is worth it to see Civil War artifacts, and learn all about The General and the part it played in our country’s history.
Admission Rates and Hours
The current admission rates for the museum are:
Children: $5.50 ( ages 4 to 12)
Children: Free ( ages 3 and under)
Monday through Saturday 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM
Sunday: 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM
You can visit the official museum website for more information: http://www.southernmuseum.org/
Photos and Text by Karen Hellier