War for the Future


The Exhibit

Southern Ambitions: War for the Future



the project

To further the American Civil War Museum’s mission to explore the Civil War from multiple perspectives, the Andrew W. Mellon team is travelling around the world! Our second Mellon project uses a Confederate story to explore the global stakes of the American Civil War. We would like to introduce you to Southern Ambitions: War For the Future.

This years’ project features Dr. Adrian Brettle’s research, finished under the supervision of Dr. Gary Gallagher at the Nau Center for Civil War Studies at the University of Virginia. Brettle’s work will encourage our visitors to encounter not only new historical scholarship, but also new ways to understanding our world now.

This project explores how Confederates anticipated and imagined their place in the international order, and how they adjusted their vision in response to the realities of war. Southern Ambitions offers us a view of the rapidly transforming international community of the mid-19th Century. Through this project we’ve encountered Dom Pedro II and Brazilian emancipation, the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and the transformation of the British Empire, Solomon Cosby and the global work of emancipation, as well as transcontinental railroads, submarine telegraphs, and the “annihilation of space and time.”

Asking how did Confederates envision their place in this world after their independence is not a counterfactual fantasy. It helps us see that the outcome of the American Civil War—Confederate defeat and Union victory—was not foreordained, and had far-reaching stakes beyond the borders of the United States.

As the Mellon team has thought through this topic amongst ourselves and with our colleagues and partners, we’ve been surprised by how thinking about the 19th Century international world enables us to think about our world today. We still, after all, ship cotton across oceans, and global slavery did, sadly, survive the defeat of the Confederacy, and we all came of age in a global order dominated by the United—not the Confederate—States. Thinking about the American Civil War helps us imagine our own place in this alive and evolving history.

We have found, too, while talking with students at Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Union University that this topic energizes new audiences and suggests that the American Civil War Museum will be an exciting place to see old topics with new eyes.

The Mellon team looks forward to audiences taking this journey with us.