June Murray Wells walks among the ghosts of Charleston past.
She spends her days in a room surrounded by artifacts and relics of this city's most dramatic — and tragic — years. Her constant companions are priceless pieces of history: a lithograph of the signed articles of secession, the first rifled cannon made in the South, the first Confederate flag to fly over Fort Sumter. And the last.
But it is the little things that get to her.
Every morning she looks at canteens young men carried off to war, hardened soap and brittle washcloths they once bathed with, kepis they wore on their heads.
In her 51 years in this room, she has never gotten over her amazement at how slight some of the uniforms are.
Many of these soldiers, who loom so large in this nation's history, were smaller than even she is.
As much as these artifacts, Wells is the heart and soul of the United Daughters of the Confederacy's Confederate Museum. She is the keeper of the collection, its historian, its interpreter.
And she offers her visitors an important perspective on our collective history.
A hidden gem
Wells does not dwell on the battles, the larger political issues of those days. She is much more interested in the telling details, and what it says about our most conflicted time.
"It is much more personal than most museums," she says.
Many museums have to rely on reproductions and fancy interactive features.
But this museum deals only in authentic pieces, most donated by Confederate veterans more than a century ago. Here you will find Beauregard's silver match box, the wedding ring of a soldier, the meager belongings one boy carried off to war.
The collection is housed in Market Hall, just above the vendors selling souvenirs and trinkets to tourists. There is a small sign over the door, and the museum is mentioned in some tourist guides; but it resides — quite literally — in Charleston's attic.
This is a part of history some people in Charleston would just as soon forget, and that's a shame. There's an old saying about people who don't learn from their history.
Learn about the past
It was in this room that many young men signed up to fight for the South. Many of them did not understand the politics of the war, what had caused it.
If our current war has taught us anything, it is that you can protest a conflict or what it stood for, but you must honor the men who have to fight it.
This museum is anything but an attempt to glorify war.
Wells, in fact, despises the very idea. When visitors come in — and a good number of them do; political correctness does not keep them away — she makes sure they notice the drumsticks of a soldier killed in battle, and points out he was 12 years old.
And she shows everyone the blood stains on one of those small uniforms, a reminder that the man who wore it likely died. In a war where hundreds of thousands were killed, she wants you to realize how tragic each death was.
"I do hope, by showing that blood, it might be enough to stop another war," Well says.
It is lesson more people could stand to learn.