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Visual Description | The Price of Freedom

Exhibit Overview

The entrance to The Price of Freedom exhibit is a lit display wall with a passage leading off to the left. The wall contains images of military figures throughout time, including a Civil War soldier standing and holding a gun, a pilot from the 20th century posing for a photograph, and a woman hugging a sailor, among other images. In the middle of this display is a solid blue panel with the words “The Price of Freedom, America at War,” written in silver lettering. Behind opaque cloth screens are mannequins that are silhouetted as lights are selectively turned on to illuminate them. The exhibition is the second largest in the museum, at 18,260 square feet. The passage that starts to the left of the entrance winds, maze-like, through the space so that visitors are not able to experience the entire exhibition space at one time, but instead encounter new spaces and new content as they turn corners. The exhibition is designed around the four conflicts that had the greatest impact on the domestic trajectory of the United States: the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War II, and the Vietnam War. Visitors move chronologically through the history of American military conflict, starting with the lead up to the American Revolution. Though there is a main path through the exhibition, there are also optional alternative routes at times.  


George Washington’s Uniform


Commanding Presence

George Washington stood tall when he accepted his commission to lead the Continental army on June 15, 1775—more than six feet, in fact. And he cut an impressive figure in his uniform: “His frame is padded with well-developed muscles, indicating great strength,” wrote a friend in 1760. He has “rather long arms and legs,” large hands and feet, a head that is “well-shaped, though not large” with “blue gray penetrating eyes,” and “dark brown hair which he wears in a que [braid].” His “movements and gestures are graceful, his walk majestic, and he is a splendid horseman.” Waistcoat and breeches, 1783, and regimental coat, 1789, that Washington wore for commemorative portraits and special occasions.

Verbal Description

Toward the end of the section that explores the American Revolution is a tall case tucked into the corner of the passage which contains George Washington’s military uniform. It is displayed on a mannequin form that does not have hands or a head. The form is life-size and quite tall, at about five feet. Since the form does not include a head, this height presents a realistic view of how the uniform would have appeared on George Washington, who was over six feet tall. It is posed in a casual stance with relaxed shoulders, legs slightly bent, and arms hanging down to the sides. The navy-blue wool jacket has a yellowy-cream wool trim both around the front lapels and at the collar and cuffs. The trim is covered with lines of large brass buttons: ten on each side of the lapels and more around each cuff. Underneath the jacket is a matching cream-colored vest, fastened with smaller brass buttons. A white shirt peeks out at the collar and the sleeves. The white ruffles on the shirt collar overflow at the top of the vest and spill out in front a couple of inches. The matching cream wool pants and black leather boots do not have any decoration. The boots rise to right below the knee. 


Appomattox furniture


Chairs and table used at the surrender of Appomattox. Lee sat in the caned armchair, Grant sat in the upholstered chair. Grant signed the surrender document on the table. The furniture came to the Smithsonian early in the 20th century.

Verbal Description

Toward the end of the section on the Civil War is a large glass case containing two chairs set on either side of a small oval table. The case sits against a wall with a backdrop of newspaper pages and photographs in a collage blown up to about eight feet wide. A headline in the display reads “Surrender of Gen. Lee!” and the collage includes an image of General Robert E. Lee and General Ulysses S. Grant sitting at a table together. The chair on the left-hand side of the case is a swivel chair upholstered in black leather. The simple design is comprised of a tufted and stuffed leather back with smooth wooden arms and seat. There is a silver metal plaque on the seat of the chair with an inscription that reads, “This is the chair in which Genl. U. S. Grant sat when he signed the Articles of Capitulation resulting in the surrender of the Confederate Army by Genl. R. E. Lee at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, April 9th, 1865.” A taller arm chair sits across from the leather chair on the right side of the case. The seat and back of this chair are woven cane, similar to wicker, in a lighter brown color than the dark wood of General Grant’s chair. The cane is surrounded by a wooden frame that includes the chair’s arms and legs. The oval table in the center is small, perhaps only three feet tall and maybe a foot wide, with four narrow spindle legs supporting the tabletop. The table is a dark brown that matches General Grant’s swivel chair. 


Huey Helicopter 


This Huey served in Vietnam. Later it was the centerpiece of a film and national tour designed to heal the wounds of a divisive war. Nearly 4,000 Bell UH-1 helicopters, nicknamed Hueys, served during the war. This Huey, with tail number 65-10091, was deployed to Vietnam in 1966 and served with the 173rd Assault Helicopter Company, known as the Robinhoods. It returned to the United States and continued to fly until 1995, when it was decommissioned and acquired by the Texas Air Command Museum. In 2002, the 091 starred in a documentary film and a tour of reconciliation and remembrance that brought Vietnam veterans and their stories to people across the nation.

Verbal Description

As you round the corner into the section covering the Vietnam War, the room is quite dark and you immediately encounter the front end of an entire Bell UH-1 Iroquois “Huey” helicopter. A mannequin depicting a soldier stands in front of it and two more look out of the cockpit’s front window. A yellow Robin Hood cap with a red feather is painted on the nose of the helicopter, with “091” printed underneath in faded black. The helicopter sits directly on the floor behind a partition. The floor around the landing skids is designed to look sandy and grassy, to resemble a landing zone in South Vietnam. The paint on the body of the Huey helicopter is a dark olive-drab green that looks almost black under the lights. As you walk around the room, you are walking along the length of the helicopter. The right-hand door to the cockpit is closed, and “turn, pull” is written on the outside with arrows next to the door. The side door behind the cockpit is slid open and a video plays on a television screen placed just inside the doorway. Two more mannequin soldiers are near the open door; one is wounded and lying on a stretcher, while the other is kneeling down, tending to him. A dark-green body bag is laid out flat alongside the two men. The tail boom of the helicopter stretches to the back of the room, with large letters along the tail reading, “United States Army.” The helicopter is fifty-seven feet long. Two massive propeller blades directly overhead fill the entire length and width of the room.