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Review: Texas Civil War Museum
Founded in 2006, this 15,500 ft. building sits on the West 820 Loop of Fort Worth looking for all the world like a plantation house from a bygone era. Inside, the inquisitive visitor can find one of the biggest collections of Civil War memorabilia in the United States. This impressive collection has been gathered together through the efforts of private collectors Ray and Judy Richey in collaboration with the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The collection is divided into three sections:
- The Ray Richey Civil War Collection
- The Judy Richey Victorian Dress Collection
- Texas Confederate Collection
There is also a theater set up to run a special movie commissioned for this museum called "Our Homes, Our Rights: Texas in the Civil War".
Together, these special exhibits tell the story of the Confederate military experience throughout the time period from 1861 to 1865. A visit will take about two hours, and makes for a fascinating, if sobering, experience.
The Texas Civil War Museum
Texas Civil War Museum at a Glance
Hours of Operation: Tuesday through Saturday, 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Address: 760 Jim Wright Freeway North, Fort Worth, Texas
Phone number: 817 - 246 - 2323
Cost: Adults $6.00, children 7 - 12 $3.00. Children six and under are free.
Group rates available for groups of 10 people or more.
The Ray Richey Civil War Collection
The largest section of this fascinating collection is the Ray Richey Civil War Collection, which consists of over 3,000 items related to both the Union and the Confederate armies in the Civil War. The collection is not displayed with great imagination, but it is fairly comprehensive, with a great variety of items to examine: firearms, uniforms, cooking utensils, musical instruments, bibles, flags, clothing, canteens, doctor's equipment, maps, even photographs. Here are some of the highlights:
A sample of ordinary objects in the exhibits
- A Holy Bible
- A New Testament
- The Patriot's Hymn Book
- Book of Private Devotion
- The Soldier's Textbook
- Several knives
A little bit of humor
Although the displays are not generally terribly creative, somebody on the staff had a delightful sense of humor. In this exhibit we see an actual piece of hardtack bread that is still intact more that 140 years after the Civil War. The caption next to this unusually unappetizing piece of hardtack mentions that it was unpleasant to eat and had to be fried or soaked in water to be palatable.
Immediately above the preserved hardtack we find this photo of two Union soldiers, posing as they "enjoy" a piece of the inedible stuff.
For those whose culinary tastes are adventurous, hardtack is available in the museum gift shop. We assume it is not left over from the Civil War rations.
Both Sides Represented
Although the Texas Civil War Museum gets a large number of its donations from the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the collection actually does a very good job of displaying items from both the Union and the Confederate armies. This uniform belonged to a private in the Connecticut Regiment.
Celebrating the Sesquicentennial
The Museum is currently celebrating the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War with this revolving exhibit, changed weekly, that commemorates a significant event that occurred 150 years ago. These weekly celebrations are often accompanied by lectures or giveaways intended to raise awareness in the importance of Civil War history.
A most disturbing and thought-provoking exhibit: the medical collection
The organizers of this collection have gone to great pains to acknowledge the profound cost and anguish brought upon by war. The medical exhibit presents a grim reminder with this display of a set of doctor's amputation tools. Directly above this shiny knife set and other tools like it you will see photographs of the unfortunate men who were forced to accept the services of the doctors who used such devices - and it is even more sobering to remember that the Civil War took place before the development of anesthesia. Sometimes those being operated on might given alcohol for the pain.
Remember the Ladies: The Victorian Dresses Collection
The last exhibit in the museum is a spectacular collection of Victorian-era dresses from the private collection of Judy Richey. There is one entire area dedicated to explaining the history of the bustle and the changes in fashion using bustles during a 40- year period. This beautiful collection, which provides a nice contrast to some of the grimmer offerings in the rest of the museum, features outfits for both women and children as well as formal wear, travel wear, and even one swimsuit.
A Fatal Flaw - Bias
Although the Texas Civil War Museum does a very good job of displaying memorabilia from both the Union and the Confederate armies, there are various slightly disturbing indicators throughout the exhibit that this collection has been assembled by collectors who preferred the Confederacy to the Union.
Placards such as this one located all around the museum repeatedly remind the visitor that the defeated Confederate army was badly outnumbered. The museum's primary educational film, shown every half hour in the theater, is called "Our Homes, Our Rights: Texas in the Civil War" and it asserts that Confederate soldiers went to war in a rebellion against those who wished to take away their way of life. Nowhere in that film, or anywhere else in the museum, is the word "slavery" mentioned a single time. That glaring omission left this reviewer with the very uncomfortable impression that slavery as a core cause of the Civil War was a subject that the curators of this museum did not wish to confront, as inclusion of this might render the Confederate point of view less sympathetic.
This magnificent diorama, a dazzling display that recreates the little - known Battle of Palmito Ranch, is both a fascinating exhibit and an excellent example of the inherent bias that mars this museum. The exhibit presents the Battle of Palmito Ranch as the final battle of the Civil War. It took place on May 13, 1865, one month after the surrender at Appomattox. The Battle of Palmito Ranch had no bearing on the war's outcome, and yet it is the subject of one of the museum's most elaborate and impressive exhibits. Why? Because the Confederates won that battle, the final conflict of the war. There is no exhibit at all depicting the surrender of the Confederate forces to General Grant.
Reviewer's Rating for Texas Civil War Museum
The Texas Civil War Museum is an interesting and educational destination, filled with thousands of pieces of well-preserved memorabilia. It offers educational scavenger hunts and tours for children, and it is very reasonably priced. It's definitely worth a look - but do be aware that the presentation of history is quite skewed at this museum and at least one enormously important issue that lies at the center of the Civil War conflict has been quite deliberately excised from discussion or view in this institution. There can be no comprehensive and academically honest display of topics related to the Civil War without acknowledgement of slavery as being a root cause of the conflict, and that omission is the reason why I have rated this excellent and well-preserved collection at 3 stars.