The collection was created, for the most part, as a result of contributions of MOLLUS members, their families, and the leading citizens of the time. President Rutherford B. Hayes was the first President of what was then called the War Library and Museum. This provenance means that the personal stories, as well as, the war stories of these men can be told through the uniforms, diaries, weapons and other belongings in the collection. A bullet-struck pocket watch and bloody handkerchief tell as powerful a tale of the experience of battle, as the rifle and bayonet; a scrapbook with a letter from home and a lock of hair, as meaningful as a flag tattered by battle.
The Museum was housed at 18th and Pine Streets in Philadelphia until 2008, when it closed in anticipation of building a new museum in Philadelphia. A opening in 2014 is planned for the new museum. While the museum is closed, the collection is being cared for by the Gettysburg Foundation and stored at the Gettysburg Battlefield Museum and Visitors Center, where a special exhibition of material from the collection is planned for 2013. Artifacts are also on exhibit in Philadelphia at the new National Museum of American Jewish History and the African American Museum in Philadelphia. The library and much of the archival material, including the MOLLUS archives, are on long-term loan to the library of the Civil War Heritage Center at the Union League of Philadelphia which is scheduled to open in 2012.
The Civil War Museum of Philadelphia was chartered in 1888, but the Museum’s history and its collection had their beginnings as the Civil War ended in 1865. A group of Union officers in Philadelphia came together after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, fearing that the War might start again. When that concern was allayed, these officers served as the honor guard for President Lincoln’s body as it lay in state in Independence Hall. They soon determined that they could commemorate the sacrifices and service of Union officers by forming an organization, the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States [MOLLUS]. With headquarters in Philadelphia, “commanderies” were established in the states that supported the Union during the War.
History is measured in moments, but made by people. And not just “great” people, but ordinary ones, who often accomplish extraordinary things and, through their actions, become agents of change. Through its exhibits, living history presentations, and educational programs, the new Civil War Museum of Philadelphia will enable visitors to encounter some of these individuals, be inspired by their experiences, and come away better informed with new and broader understandings of the Civil War and America in the 19th century. It will also act as a “gateway” to the rich 19th century and Civil War collections, institutions and history of the region.
Philadelphia, as the second largest city in the country, played a key role in shaping our national history, not only as the place where the nation’s founding charters took shape, but also where the largest free black community in America established institutions and took a leadership role in the abolition movement; where over a $1 billion in bonds were sold to finance the Civil War; and where the issues of slavery and national unity were sharply focused in political dialogue, in the press, and on the streets. Philadelphia, often called the “southernmost Northern city”, had close economic and familial ties to the South and much of its wealth came from the textile industry and trade with the South. Philadelphians owned plantations and the largest slave holder in the country, Peirce Butler, was a leading citizen. Philadelphia played a key role in all aspects of the struggle that split our nation in two and threatened the Union and the values and beliefs that inspired it. The opening of a new Civil War Museum in 2014 will identify Philadelphia as a Civil War destination for the first time, creating the potential for expanding the dialogue about this conflict, its causes and the aftermath that affects us to the present.