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 “My interest, for all my life, has been the Civil War,” says Wayne Motts, the National Civil War Museum’s new CEO, “and if you could create a job that would match my interests and skills, it would be this position.” Passion for American history and the Civil War has propelled Motts throughout his career. For seven years he served as the director of the Adams County Historical Society, headquartered in the building where Union General John Buford observed the Rebel advance on the campus of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. While there, he helped spearhead a multimillion-dollar renovation of the facility, which will reopen in April 2013. In May Motts, who lives near Gettysburg with his wife, left Adams County for his new position at Harrisburg’s NCWM. Motts says he can’t wait to make his mark on the museum, which opened in 2001.

What sparked your Civil War interest?

My native home is near Columbus, Ohio, a little town called Groveport. When my father was 14 years old he got a set of diaries that belonged to a soldier who was in the 62nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment. When I was a little boy, on very special occasions my father would bring out these two diaries from Sergeant Aaron McNaghten, and he would read the diaries to me. One of the diary entries said that McNaghten met Lincoln the day he was in Fredericksburg.

Did Sergeant McNaghten survive the war?

He was killed at Fort Wagner, and his body was never recovered. The diaries are now on display at a family museum, the Motts Military Museum, that my parents operate in central Ohio. They’ve been in my family about 60 years. That’s why I like working in museums—artifacts represent a personal story.

What’s your educational background?

My B.A. in military history is from The Ohio State University, and I relocated to Gettysburg, Pa., because my area of expertise was the Civil War. I became a licensed battlefield guide in 1988, when I was 21. I was one of the youngest to ever go through that licensing process and have been a guide at the battlefield for almost 25 years. I have an M.A. in American history from Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. I wrote and published my master’s thesis on Confederate General Lewis Armistead. I’m interested in military history and many different aspects of military history, although most of my career, most of my training and most of my work has been connected with the Civil War.

What’s unique about the NCWM?

The most exciting thing for me is that the museum has a collection of 25,000 items—21,000 archival pieces of material, including photographs, and 4,000 objects. You can see artifacts all over the place, but the museum possesses, for example, two of J.E.B. Stuart’s swords, a bible that belonged to Robert E. Lee during the Mexican War, and a frock coat that belonged to Union General George Sears Greene. The collection is phenomenal.

What artifact has made you go “Wow!”?

When I need to reenergize my batteries, I take a walk through the stored collections. The other day I pulled out a framed object from storage, the original playbill for Our American Cousin for Ford’s Theatre on the night that President Lincoln was assassinated, listing all the characters on it for the production. I was holding this framed original playbill for the performance of April 14, 1865. I don’t see how you couldn’t get excited about the Civil War after holding something priceless like that in your hand.

Will you rotate the artifacts on display?

A portion of what is there is permanent, others are rotating. Some exhibits are new. Recently we put in a Virtual Lincoln, which you can also visit on our website [], which is a project with Carnegie Mellon. You push a button, and Virtual Lincoln answers questions about Abe Lincoln.

What is your biggest challenge?

As with all museums, it’s financial. A lot of nonprofits, cultural institutions, museums and archives have suffered greatly in this economic downturn. Grants from states or municipalities, as well as foundations, have dried up or are drying up. The main challenge is paying the bills, like insurance or light bills; traditionally you can’t get grants for operations or insurance. Part of my challenge is to build revenue, exposure and recognition for the museum. I’m looking forward to doing that.

What are your main goals for the museum?

No. 1, to keep the museum on a sustainable financial footing as we go forward. That has a lot to do with financial development and improving visitation. The others would be to increase the museum’s recognition and visibility. That would also contribute to goal No. 1. One of my roles is to be the ambassador of goodwill for the museum.

How do you feel about new media?

I enjoy computers and technology in museums, and I think they are a way to reach a new generation. I think a lot of museum folks have concerns about how they fit into a museum. I know there’s concern among core folks who always want to see objects, artifacts, on view. I can look at rifles all day, but to look at 60–70 rifles without a story, well that doesn’t do a lot for most folks. I also don’t think it does a lot for a 10-year-old child, and let’s face it, that’s where we have to go.

How do you interest kids in the war?

American history is history for all Americans, and the conflict is a watershed event in our past regardless of your background or culture. For anyone living in the United States, appreciating that is important. We have a section of displays on African-American soldiers who played a very prominent role in the Civil War. We all know that during the 100th anniversary of the war hardly any of that was discussed or talked about. For the 150th anniversary, it is being talked about, and I’m proud that we’re able to make that presentation about such an under-recognized and underappreciated aspect of the conflict.

We also need to tell the part of the story that takes place off the battlefield. Don’t get me wrong, the Civil War is battle. We think of Pickett’s Charge; we think of Fredericksburg—and we should. But that’s not the whole war. We need to teach all aspects of the conflict to our young people. When you make an effort to widen the net, when you tell the whole story of the conflict, you’ve got a better chance of reaching people on something that they will connect with.

What do you do for fun on your days off?

My work is my hobby. I still do battlefield guiding on a limited basis. I enjoy golf, but I don’t get much chance to play. On my way to work I listen to “The Great Courses.” I listen to the “Emperors of Rome” and the histories of Rome and the Peloponnesian War. I just love history.


Originally published in the October 2012 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.