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National Civil War Chaplains Museum opens on campus

January 23, 2010 : Kristen Riordan

From left, Dr. Harold Willmington, Dr. Boyd Rist, Dr. Ron Godwin, Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr., Dr. Kenny Rowlette and Dr. Cline Hall participate in the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Jan. 23.

The National Civil War Chaplains Museum held a grand opening ceremony on the Liberty University campus on Saturday, Jan. 23.

A valued addition to Liberty’s exceptional educational resources, the museum is the only one of its kind dedicated to the role of chaplains, priests, rabbis and religious organizations who ministered to the common soldier in the Civil War. It features treasured artifacts from the Civil-War era as well as testimonies and historical facts from a unique perspective.

Originally housed in DeMoss Learning Center — Liberty’s main academic building — the museum relocated next to Doc’s Diner on Campus East last fall.

Saturday’s ceremony included a ribbon-cutting by Liberty administrators, professors and museum board members, including Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. Representatives from eight different Civil War groups celebrated the event with an honor guard salute, and re-enactors attended in proper Civil War attire.

Visitors then toured the museum, which featured a number of exhibits including original soldier’s uniforms, life-size wax statues of chaplains, accessories from the war and murals of war scenes by university artist Paul Dinwiddie. Following the tour, guests were treated to a luncheon in the executive dining room at Liberty’s Reber-Thomas Dining Hall, where they heard from leaders of Civil War-related groups in the community.

At the ceremony, Dr. Kenny Rowlette, director of the National Civil War Chaplains Research Center and Museum Foundation and associate professor of English at LU, expressed his gratitude for the university’s role in making the museum a reality.

“This has been created because of collaboration between our organization and the university, but without the university this would not have come to be,” he said. “Dr. Falwell was behind this years ago and [Jerry Falwell] Jr. has consistently stepped in when we needed any kind of support.”

Falwell said the museum “is fitting with Liberty’s mission,” adding that it will help “the whole region as well as the university.”

Rowlette said the museum will benefit the region by adding yet another quality Civil War attraction and boosting tourism.

“Lynchburg’s rich Civil War heritage — The Battle of Lynchburg, Lynchburg as a hospital center during the war, Lynchburg as a prisoner of war center, and the legendary CSA units from the city (the 11th VA, Company G and the 2nd VA Cavalry) — make it a ‘must see’ destination for any Civil War enthusiasts who are on their way to or from either Appomattox or Richmond,” he said.

Liberty University will also benefit, as history students will have a convenient facility to be immersed in Civil-War era relics, he said.

“Students will be next door to an institution which will not only have top-notch exhibits, but they will also have access to archives and artifacts which will help them with their scholarly research,” Rowlette said. “They will also have access to educational programs and nationally renowned speakers who will help them to appreciate better the religious climate of America on the eve of and during the Civil War and how priests, rabbis, and chaplains helped to expose an entire generation of our nation’s finest men to God’s word.”

Rowlette, who helped establish the museum two years ago, developed a passion for the Civil War early on in his life, especially during the 1960s when a variety of centennial events celebrated the 100th anniversary of the war. One re-enactment that he attended with his grandfather at the age of 11 led to a lifetime of fascination in the era.

Since joining LU’s faculty in 1980, Rowlette has taken every chance to encourage students to pursue further exploration into the subject. He developed a course on Literature of the Civil War in 1992 and regularly addresses the Civil War in his American Literature. Rowlette also helps coordinate Liberty's annual Civil War Seminar each spring, hosted by LU’s Department of History, the Department of English and Modern Languages, drawing hundreds of people from all over the United States to take part in reenactments and educational lectures about the time period.

When the late Dr. Jerry Falwell, LU’s founder and an avid history buff, gave Rowlette the chance to take his love for the Civil War one step further by creating a museum, he jumped at the opportunity and the rest is history.

For more information, visit www.chaplainsmuseum.org.