Heritage, 2009, Volume 2 Page: 30
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Texas Civil War Museum in Fort Worth
Teaches Realities of Battle, Among Other Lessons
Weaponry, Medicine, and Music Are Part of the Educational Presentations
"How does one teach the Civil War without talking about guns?"
asks Cynthia Harriman, director of education and communications
at the Texas Civil War Museum in Fort Worth. While the topic of
guns can be a sensitive issue in today's learning environments, Har-
riman agrees that as an integral part of Texas and American history,
educators cannot teach about the Civil War without a discussion of
firearms. "We treat historic firearms no differently than any other
artifact," Harriman says. "However, we do teach an abbreviated
version of gun safety. If students do handle a weapon, for example,
the Enfield rifle or the revolver included in our 'touch table,' they
are instructed to keep the barrel of the gun straight up, pointing
away from others, and not to pull the trigger or hammer. We stress
that these weapons are not toys and work to instill in the students
a proper respect for a firearm."
The demonstration and discussion of the types of Civil War
weaponry is only one small part of a larger lesson about guns that
museum staff teach to school groups. Through presentations,
exhibits, and tours, the Texas Civil War Museum strives to give
students a comprehensive understanding of the multifaceted role
that firearms played during the course of the conflict. Docents talk
about how the North outnumbered the South in weapon produc-
tion and carried updated, better-designed firearms, describing the
impact that this inequity had on both Confederate and Union
soldiers. Living historians discuss how guns worked at that time,
explaining why the cavalry and infantry carried different types of
weapons. They talk about why military tactics changed during
the course of the war as a result of improvements in firearm tech-
nology. The Civil War Medicine program, one of 10 theme-based
educational presentations offered by the museum, highlights the
advancement in medical procedures that resulted from treating
gunshot wounds suffered by soldiers. Students learn that as a
consequence of the use of improved firearms, in combination
with older, close-range battlefield tactics, amputations were the
primary life-saving surgery during the Civil War. While seem-
ingly crude and inefficient by modern standards, the primitive
methods for amputations on the Civil War battlefield gave way
to improved surgical procedures.
While most students are engaged by the weaponry of that era,
military artifacts are used by staff members as a gateway to con-
necting young historians to the personal experiences of Civil War
"characters." The Cavalry and Civil War Soldier presentations high-
light the uniforms, weapons, equipment, and personal items used
by Confederate and Union soldiers. Harriman says that in describ-
ing the difficulties suffered by soldiers during the conflict, docents
talk about how members of the cavalry not only fed and tended to
their horses but also had to be concerned for the safety of their ani-
mals on the battlefield. "The difficulties faced by soldiers are a crit-
ical aspect of discussions, but adding the hardships of war-like caring
for a horse-seems to be one of the more effective ways of teaching
children." Harriman explains, "Younger students can relate more to an
endangered animal than to soldiers who lived so long ago."
In addition to teaching Civil War military history, the education
curriculum developed and offered by the Texas Civil War Museum
introduces students and visitors to other cultural areas of historical
interest. One of the most favored programs among female students
is the Victorian Lady presentation (see photo, this page). Girls are
HERITAGEU Volume 2 2009
TEACHING TEXAS HISTORY
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, 2009, Volume 2, periodical, 2009; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth254213/m1/30/: accessed December 16, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.