Civil War museum closes after spat over Confederate flag

Nash Farm Battlefield Museum volunteer curator Bill Dodd, right, returns a blanket from the Civil War that has been a family heirloom to Henry County historian Gene Morris, left, as the museum clears out its exhibits after closing its doors in Hampton, Ga., Thursday, May 25, 2017. "It was a wonderful museum and a great educational facility," Morris said. "It's really a sad thing to see it gone." (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Volunteer curator Bill Dodd, right, removes an original newspaper front page from 1865 about President Abraham Lincoln's funeral as he returns it to Elbert Pirtle, left, at the Nash Farm Battlefield Museum as it closes its doors in Hampton, Ga., Thursday, May 25, 2017. "It really hurts. It's history. Not in a hateful way," Pirtle said about picking up his family heirlooms on loan to the Civil War museum. "The point is it's still American history. You study history or you make the same mistakes over again." (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A piece of Confederate memorabilia to General Robert E. Lee sits atop a box at the Nash Farm Battlefield Museum, a small Civil War museum closing in Hampton, Ga., Thursday, May 25, 2017. Against the backdrop of the removal of Confederate symbols from public spaces around the South, the closure of the small Civil War museum in Georgia has stirred up strong emotions. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A mannequin dressed as a Confederate soldier looks out from an upstairs bathroom at the Nash Farm Battlefield Museum, a small Civil War museum closing in Hampton, Ga., Thursday, May 25, 2017. Against the backdrop of the removal of Confederate symbols from public spaces around the South, the closure of the small Civil War museum in Georgia has stirred up strong emotions. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
An American and Confederate 2nd National Flag stand in the window of an empty room at the Nash Farm Battlefield Museum, a small Civil War museum closing in Hampton, Ga., Thursday, May 25, 2017. Against the backdrop of the removal of Confederate symbols from public spaces around the South, the closure of the small Civil War museum in Georgia has stirred up strong emotions. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A memorial to Confederate soldiers who died in a battle where the Nash Farm Battlefield Museum now sits, stands outside the museum in Hampton, Ga., Thursday, May 25, 2017. While some dispute the sites bona fides as a Civil War battlefield, archaeological excavation and extensive research have turned up convincing evidence that a battle happened there in August 1864, Henry County historian Gene Morris said. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Mannequins sit in a carriage on display at the Nash Farm Battlefield Museum, a small Civil War museum closing in Hampton, Ga., Thursday, May 25, 2017. Against the backdrop of the removal of Confederate symbols from public spaces around the South, the closure of the small Civil War museum in Georgia has stirred up strong emotions. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Peter Bonner, left, looks at a painting of Union soldiers as David Moody, right, tours what's left of the Nash Farm Battlefield Museum, a small Civil War museum closing in Hampton, Ga., Thursday, May 25, 2017. Against the backdrop of the removal of Confederate symbols from public spaces around the South, the closure of the small Civil War museum in Georgia has stirred up strong emotions. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A poster of a Union drummer boy is displayed inside the Nash Farm Battlefield Museum in Hampton, Ga., Thursday, May 25, 2017. The museum was located in an old farmhouse nestled in a 204-acre county-owned park in Hampton, about 30 miles south of Atlanta, that's a popular spot for weddings. The last tour at the museum was May 18 and nearly all the artifacts, mostly loaned by private owners, had been removed by Thursday. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
The Nash Farm Battlefield Museum, a small Civil War museum, sits closed in Hampton, Ga., Thursday, May 25, 2017. Against the backdrop of the removal of Confederate symbols from public spaces around the South, the closure of the small Civil War museum in Georgia has stirred up strong emotions. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A book about Confederate black soldiers sits atop a box at the Nash Farm Battlefield Museum, a small Civil War museum closing in Hampton, Ga., Thursday, May 25, 2017. Against the backdrop of the removal of Confederate symbols from public spaces around the South, the closure of the small Civil War museum in Georgia has stirred up strong emotions. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
David Moody looks at portraits of Union and Confederate soldiers on display at the Nash Farm Battlefield Museum, a small Civil War museum closing in Hampton, Ga., Thursday, May 25, 2017. Against the backdrop of the removal of Confederate symbols from public spaces around the South, the closure of the small Civil War museum in Georgia has stirred up strong emotions. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
An American and Georgia state flag fly next to where a Confederate flag once flew outside the Nash Farm Battlefield Museum in Hampton, Ga., Thursday, May 25, 2017. Against the backdrop of the removal of Confederate symbols from public spaces around the South, the closure of the small Civil War museum in Georgia has stirred up strong emotions. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Volunteer curator Bill Dodd, walks through the Nash Farm Battlefield Museum as he clears out exhibits after the small Civil War museum closed its doors in Hampton, Ga., Thursday, May 25, 2017. Against the backdrop of the removal of Confederate symbols from public spaces around the South, the closure of the small Civil War museum in Georgia has stirred up strong emotions. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Visitors look over a field outside the Nash Farm Battlefield Museum, a small Civil War museum that is closing its doors in Hampton, Ga., Thursday, May 25, 2017. While some dispute the sites bona fides as a Civil War battlefield, archaeological excavation and extensive research have turned up convincing evidence that a battle happened there in August 1864, Henry County historian Gene Morris said. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Volunteer curator Bill Dodd is reflected in a portrait of a Union soldier on display at the Nash Farm Battlefield Museum which is closing its doors in Hampton, Ga., Thursday, May 25, 2017. Against the backdrop of the removal of Confederate symbols from public spaces around the South, the closure of the small Civil War museum in Georgia has stirred up strong emotions. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

ATLANTA — This much everyone can agree on: A small Civil War museum, nestled in an old farmhouse at the site of a purported battlefield, has closed its doors and boxed up its Confederate and Union artifacts.

The leaders of a volunteer group that runs the Nash Farm Battlefield Museum said they preferred to close rather than fight a county commissioner's request to remove all Confederate flags from the museum. But the commissioner says she never made such a request.

Whomever you believe, the closure has rankled residents as cities across the South — most recently New Orleans — wrestle with whether to remove Confederate symbols seen by some as vestiges of racism and others as icons of heritage. The issue has been especially sensitive since Dylann Roof, an avowed white supremacist who posed in photos with the Confederate flag, gunned down nine people at a South Carolina church in 2015.

The museum sat on a 204-acre, county-owned park that's about 30 miles south of Atlanta in Hampton and is a popular spot for weddings and other events. The curator gave the final tour May 18, and nearly every artifact — most of them loaned by private owners — had been removed by Thursday.

"It was a wonderful museum and a great educational facility," Henry County historian Gene Morris said. "It's really a sad thing to see it gone."

No official county action led to the museum's closure, spokeswoman Melissa Robinson said. The county board of commissioners said in a statement Thursday that commissioners needed to explore the facts more thoroughly but that the closure has caused "much divisiveness and controversy."

The museum was open Fridays and Saturdays and saw visitors from all 50 states and 15 countries in its seven-year run, said volunteer curator Bill Dodd.

"I think kids ought to have the ability to touch and hold history," he said. "They learn more from touching it, feeling it, smelling it than they do from reading it in a book or looking at it on a stupid computer screen."

While some dispute the site's bona fides as a Civil War battlefield, archaeological excavation and extensive research have turned up convincing evidence it was part of a battle in August 1864, Morris said.

The park sits in the district of Commissioner Dee Clemmons, who was elected in November. Board members of the Friends of Nash Farm Battlefield Inc., the group that ran the museum, said she's been chipping away at the site since taking office.

First, Clemmons asked to remove an entrenchment replica built by a group that does re-enactments, said Jimmy Pettitt, president of the Nash Farm group. Then, in March, she had the county parks department remove a Confederate flag that flew on the parade field.

Earlier this month, while attending an event at the museum, Clemmons cornered board members and demanded all Confederate flags be removed from the museum, Pettitt said.

But that would have left only Union flags, Pettitt said: "How can you tell the story without both?"

In an emotional meeting that drew tears from just about everyone present, Pettitt said, the group's board decided to close the museum.

"You get tired of fighting with politics and you get tired of fighting with other people," he said.

The group has decided to focus on preserving the battlefield, Pettitt said.

Clemmons said she only asked to remove Confederate flags in the windows of the museum bookstore that could be seen from outside.

"I'm very surprised that they didn't come to me and sit down and talk to me because that's the relationship that I thought we had built," she said.

She declined in a phone conversation Thursday to answer further questions, saying the county attorney had told her to stop talking. She referred an Associated Press reporter to a video "showing the type of support that I have been trying to push for this park."

The video, which appears to be a fundraising pitch, suggests developing the Nash Farm park into an "agricultural green space for school field trips and family outings." The plans include educational programs, music and storytelling events, as well as hiking and horseback trails.

The video doesn't mention that the site is believed to be a Civil War battlefield. In a March 16 email obtained by the Henry Herald newspaper, Clemmons wrote to her fellow commissioners and said of the outdoor Confederate flag: "this flag has no historical relevance to the undocumented battlefield."

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