An interactive journey through the nation’s stormy past can be found at the National Civil War Naval Museum — but Port Columbus is more than just a static showcase of the bloody, maritime battles waged between Union and Confederate forces. The museum pays homage to the vision, sacrifices and innovation forged by both sides that built the arsenal and might within today’s U.S. Navy.
My first visit there certainly reawakened the old history major in me. It delivered a fascinating, comprehensive look into naval and Marine life during the Civil War.
“There are a lot of places folks can go to learn about the land battles of the Civil War, but this is the only place in the country where the entire naval history of the war is told,” said Jon Ezzell, director of communications for the National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus.
The museum’s main attractions are the replicas and remnants of old ships that once served the North and South. Patrons can climb aboard or circle the vessels for a peek at how sailors fought and lived during the conflict carried out on the nation’s rivers, bays and high seas.
Union and Confederate sailors alike endured harsh living conditions on the boats.
“Compared to Army standards at the time, it was cushy duty,” Ezzell said. “Life on board wasn’t great, and the food was terrible, but at least they got food in most cases.”
A timeline exhibit documents all the major naval campaigns and chronicles the story of both navies. Port Columbus also is home to the country’s largest Civil War naval flag collection. Various paintings, images and murals are displayed on the museum floor.
Among other artifacts is the Confederate uniform coat worn by Catesby ap R. Jones, who commanded the CSS Virginia (Merrimac) the day it fought the Monitor in one of the most significant naval battles of all time. The garment is tiny, which illustrates the relatively small physical stature of many leaders from the era.
The museum conducts ghost tours starting at 8 p.m. the last Thursday of every month. Demand and interest in the lights-out excursions grew after its debut last October.
“With all the old artifacts, the place is a little creepy anyway. You hear all sorts of creaks and noises from time to time,” Ezzell said. “So the ghost tours are dark and spooky — even if nothing strange happens.” For more information, call 706-327-9798 or visit www.portcolumbus.org. Visitors can dial 706-358-4201 on their cell phones for free automated tour guides at major exhibits throughout the museum.