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Discovering the Civil War Exhibit HMNS

Discovering The Civil War


Layers of time and memory obscure the American Civil War in a smoky haze. The real human beings, military and civilian, who lived through these years of travail and sacrifice, are lost to us, but the records they left behind give us a pathway back to the past.

The National Archives holds millions of records, both Union and Confederate. Discovering the Civil War draws on these letters, diaries, photos, petitions, and patents to give visitors a chance to walk in the shoes of researchers in unlocking secrets, solving mysteries, and uncovering unexpected events from this pivotal point in our history.

Exhibit Puts Civil War In New Perspective

See photos from the exhibit and read an interview with the curator in the Houston Chronicle's exhibit preview. 


The exhibit is divided into 12 thematic areas that combine great original treasures, engaging touch screen interactives and social media tools, selected to illustrate the breadth of the conflict and to ask, “How do we know what happened?”  

Each area is anchored by an original document, and all the records become powerful tools that let visitors consider and ask questions about evidence; listen to a wide variety of voices; and make up their own minds about the struggle that tore apart these United States. 

Discovering the Front Line: Highlights from the Nau Civil War Collection

A special companion exhibit to Discovering the Civil War, A Sesquicentennial Exhibition from The National Archives

Houstonian John L. Nau, III has amassed one of the largest private collections of Civil War historical artifacts in the country. For the first time ever, an array of these documents, letters, photos, weapons, military accoutrements, equipment and uniforms will be on display, giving visitors a vivid glimpse into the world of the courageous soldiers willing to sacrifice their lives. This section of the exhibition is organized by the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the Nau Civil War Collection.

USS Westfield

The third portion of the exhibit is dedicated to the battle for control over the port of Galveston and, in particular, the role played by the USS Westfield. Scuttled in 1862, and dynamited in 1906, the ship was rediscovered in 2005 and excavated in the following years.

Visitors will learn where the ship was built, the brief role it played in the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, and how it met its demise in the waters around Galveston. The Houston Museum of Natural Science is indebted to the Naval History and Heritage Command Underwater Archaeology Branch for permission to present some of the items recently retrieved from the wreck site with the help of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Galveston District and ably restored by the Center for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation at Texas A&M University.

Discovering the Civil War was created by the National Archives and Records Administration and the Foundation for the National Archives. Local support is generously provided by United Airlines, HMW Entertainment, IBERIABANK and Vinson & Elkins LLP.

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