Tales of Courage

Texas Civil War Museum educates visitors about the state’s role
in the great conflict.
By Jill Carstens-Faust

He was a 25-year-old bartender from Houston when he left to join the war. A true Southerner, Lt. Dick Dowling commanded a force of fewer than 50 soldiers against overwhelming odds–4,000 Union troops. When the Battle of Sabine Pass ended, two Union gunboats had been destroyed, and the Yankees had been forced to retreat to New Orleans. Dowling’s Davis Guards were the only Confederate soldiers ever to receive medals during wartime; and though few are known to still exist, one such medal can be found on exhibit at the Texas Civil War Museum in Fort Worth.

Moody Gardens

Above: The Texas Civil War Museum in Fort Worth. Texas Civil War Museum photo

Below: Visitors will see the largest collection of artifacts west of the Mississippi River at the museum. Texas Civil War Museum photo

Bishop's Place

Dowling’s story is one among hundreds chronicled at the museum, an institution whose focus is to educate current and future generations about the Civil War and the role Texas played. A partnership between the Texas Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and private collectors Ray and Judy Richey, the museum features the largest collection of Civil War artifacts found west of the Mississippi River.

With integrity and a balanced approach, the exhibit space gives equal attention to the Union and Confederate armies. There’s one exception to the site’s nonpartisan stance: The specially commissioned film, “Our Homes, Our Rights: Texas in the Civil War,” shown in the museum’s 75-seat theater, is decidedly pro-South. Worth watching, the movie gives perspective to the sentiments of the time and provides viewers an opportunity to contemplate the divisiveness and bitterness of the conflict.

Band of brothers

In moving detail, story after story unfolds, like that of Pvt. Julius T. Sawyer, whose blood-stained Bible stands on display. So thorough and compelling are the exhibits that many contain photos of the soldiers whose belongings are featured. One unique panel tells the story of Walter Williams, widely believed to have been the last surviving soldier of the Civil War. Born in Mississippi, he moved to Texas at 14 and fought in Gen. Hood’s army; he died in 1959 at age 117. His Confederate battle-flag necktie is among his personal effects on display.

The Davis Guard medal is not the only rare artifact exhibited. Others include one-of-a-kind battle flags; a three-pound, Union-issued hand grenade; one of the very few torpedo mines in existence; and an 1851 Colt Navy revolver with the hammer in the firing position and bullets still present in the cylinder. The revolver was recovered from the Texas site of the Battle at Palmito Ranch, which some claim to be the very last battle of the Civil War.

The museum’s final gallery takes on a feminine side with a stunning collection of Victorian dresses, including children’s attire. Dozens of gowns–some featuring rare silks, ornate embroidery and exquisite beadwork–are displayed along with a fascinating assortment of women’s bustles and Tussie Mussies, a nosegay or small flower arrangement used by Victorians as an accessory to mask offensive odors. The exhibit also includes several “bird hats,” a fashion fad popularized in the late 1800s.

History lesson

A family-friendly attraction, the museum provides a scavenger hunt experience for young visitors, turning otherwise static displays into history lessons worth paying attention to. Even the museum’s gift store, the Magnolia Mercantile, is well worth a lengthy browse. It’s an amazing repository of Civil War-related items and reproductions. Visitors can even purchase and sample hardtack, a cracker made from flour and water, which is still made today by the same bakery that supplied the Union army during the war.

Jill Carstens-Faust is senior/photo editor of Home & Away magazine.

Writer's Picks

stockyards

Fort Worth CVB photo

The Sixth Floor Museum At Dealey Plaza
For more than four decades, the Texas School Book Depository has been extraordinarily linked to the assassination of President Kennedy. Since 1989, the early 20th-century warehouse in downtown Dallas has housed The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, a remarkable exhibition chronicling the assassination and legacy of JFK. One significant aspect of the permanent exhibit is the preserved area known as the “sniper’s perch”–the corner window where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the fatal shot.

Fort Worth Stockyards

Fort Worth was the last major supply stop for the thousands of drovers who once herded longhorns up the Chisholm Trail. When the railroad arrived in 1876, Fort Worth became a major livestock shipping point. Today, those stockyards still bustle with activity as thousands of visitors stampede through annually to shop, dine and tour the historical attractions. A crowd favorite: the longhorn cattle drives that occur daily at 11:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Grapevine

Tucked between Dallas and Fort Worth, and home to DFW International Airport, is the historical community of Grapevine. Taking its name from the wild grapes that once grew there, the town still maintains a thriving wine industry. Tasting rooms, a historical arts theater, a vintage railroad, outdoor recreation on nearby Lake Grapevine, top-notch resorts, and dozens of shops and restaurants along its charming Main Street round out the offerings.

Rangers Ballpark

Built in just 23 months, Rangers Ballpark opened in 1994 with much fanfare. Part of a 270-acre complex in Arlington, the open-air ball field is the heralded centerpiece with its granite and brick façade, asymmetrical playing field and home run porch in right field. Also on the campus is a youth baseball park, a 12-acre lake and the Legends of the Game Baseball Museum and Learning Center, where visitors can try their hand at catching one of Nolan Ryan’s fastballs.

Nov/Dec 2009 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

For more information, contact the Texas Civil War Museum at (817) 246-2323 or www.texascivil
warmuseum.com
.

To visit Fort Worth, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides. List of offices to serve you.

Order free information about Texas through online Reader Service http://southern.ai-dsg.com.


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