The museum is divided into two distinct exhibit areas, to preserve and interpret the history of the American Civil War and the people involved –- North and South, men and women, children and adults, leaders and common citizens -- and to present art that depicts both the historic and modern American West.
The Civil War Gallery is an interactive experience designed to give the visitor a humanistic overview of the Civil War, including issues, causes, battles, leaders, plight of the common soldier, the home front, and the aftermath. There are currently more than 15,000 items in the Civil War collection.
The Western Art Gallery features two- and three-dimensional works of art depicting many aspects of the historical and contemporary Western experience including cowboys, Indians, settlers, and pioneers. There are more than 250 works in the Western Art collection.
The collection was a gift from Charles S. Pearce, Jr. and his wife, Peggy, who had an ongoing interest in historically-significant Civil War documents. The Pearces originally started collecting art when they had a home in Santa Fe, NM, where many contemporary Western artists lived. Their collecting philosophy was to gether a representative collection from recognized artists while identifying up-and-coming artists. Charles and Peggy decided their unique collections of Civil War and Western art also needed a home where it could be enjoyed by students and art lovers.