Over in Richmond's Museum District, a less familiar statue makes an impression. Move over, Steven Spielberg. Richmond has its own "War Horse" — a bronze tribute to equines that galloped toward heroism on American soil 50 years before World War I. The Civil War Horse stands on top of a 6-foot pedestal in front of the Virginia Historical Society building.
Did you ever feel compelled to comfort a statue? It sounds strange, but that's the urge The Civil War Horse inspires in onlookers. It is a haunting, disturbing, beautiful sculpture.
The horse is so emaciated that its ribs are visible. Its head droops as though the animal can no longer bear the burdens of hunger, battle, and fatigue. It is difficult to look and it is difficult to look away — a poignant reminder that, during wartime, horses often suffered as much as the soldiers they served. The inscription at the base emphasizes this: "In memory of the one and one half million horses and mules of the Confederate and Union armies who were killed, were wounded, or died from disease in the Civil War."
Richmond's most popular Civil War attraction is probably the Museum and White House of the Confederacy. President Davis conducted state business, cabinet meetings, and social events in the house while he, his wife Varina, and their children lived there.
Guided tours of the White House of the Confederacy offer a peek at how Davis lived and worked, but more important, they burrow beneath the man's stone-faced exterior to reveal a tortured soul prone to migraines and maladies and grieving over the accidental death of his 5-year-old son, Joseph, who, in 1864, fell 15 feet from a portico railing on the house's upper floor.
Another popular museum in Richmond is the former Tredegar Iron Works, which prodigiously produced artillery and ammunition for the Confederacy. Now operated by the National Park Service (NPS), the iron foundry has become the American Civil War Center (ACWC) at Historic Tredegar.
Today, via its 10,000-square-foot exhibit "In the Cause of Liberty," the ACWC uses films, maps, cannon, artifacts, and interactive displays to provide insight into the Civil War from Confederate, Union, and African American perspectives.
Lesser known is the Chimborazo Medical Museum, also operated by the NPS. Standing high on a hill, Chimborazo Hospital was once the world's largest military hospital. From 1861 to 1865, it tended to 75,000 soldiers. The hospital is gone. In its place is the museum, whose exhibits and artifacts tell the story of the Confederates who died or recovered, the daily operations of the hospital, and the people who worked there.
One of them was matron Phoebe Levy Pember, who introduced compassionate care to convalescing soldiers and who was honored on a U.S. postage stamp in 1995. The stories are gripping, such as the lack of antiseptic surgery that caused so many deaths and the sorrow of Dr. Hunter McGuire, who amputated Stonewall Jackson's arm.
Near the top of Richmond's "must see" list is Hollywood Cemetery, a 135-acre oasis of rolling hills, winding paths, and decorative monuments overlooking the James River. This is the final resting place for Jefferson Davis; Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler; J.E.B. Stuart, George Pickett, and other Confederate generals; and 18,000 Confederate soldiers who are commemorated with a 90-foot granite pyramid.
An offbeat cemetery is the Hebrew Cemetery, dating to 1816 and operated by Congregation Beth Ahabah. Within this cemetery is a plot called the Soldier's Section. It holds the graves of 30 Jewish Confederate soldiers killed in the Civil War.
A central granite monument is inscribed: "To the glory of God and in memory of the Hebrew Confederate soldiers resting in this hallowed spot." The plot is touted as one of only two all-Jewish military cemeteries outside of Israel. It is surrounded by an iron fence fashioned from twisted and shaped rifles.
Colonial history breathes inside St. John's Church. On March 23, 1775, the simple wooden church hosted the Second Virginia Convention, during which Patrick Henry delivered the final line of his impassioned speech: "I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death."
Each Sunday between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend at the church, costumed reenactors portray Patrick Henry, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other delegates, bringing to life the debates of a convention that sparked the American Revolution.
A lesser known colonial attraction is Tuckahoe Plantation, Jefferson's boyhood home. Tuckahoe first inspired Jefferson's interest in architecture and horticulture. The plantation house is open for tours by appointment.
"The house is priceless because of its completeness and because it contains important architectural ideas of the early Georgian period," says Beth Roane, who conducts tours at Tuckahoe.
Architectural historians characterize the H-shaped house as the finest example of colonial woodwork in America, including the exquisite decorative scrollwork along the staircase. The onsite slave cabins and Jefferson's one-room schoolhouse still stand.
It's another reason to visit, and return to, historic Richmond.