Students reenact life in a Civil War regiment

By Martha Marteney - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Thu., May. 19, 2011
Noah folds his blanket while Troy and Zoe break down camp during Wapping Elementary School's annual Civil War reenactment. Photos by Martha Marteney.
Noah folds his blanket while Troy and Zoe break down camp during Wapping Elementary School's annual Civil War reenactment. Photos by Martha Marteney.

Wapping Elementary School held its annual Civil War enactment on Friday, May 13, for the fifth-grade classes. It was a busy day, beginning with volunteers setting up the camp and fire pits before school, and the children falling in for “Reveille” at 9 a.m. “It takes months to get ready for this,” said fifth-grade teacher Kathleen Colburn.

This year’s program featured a few new elements. To help the students better relate to the curriculum material, the students were assigned to a real infantry unit that served in the Civil War. The day before the encampment, Kevin Johnson of the Connecticut State Library presented “The Life and Times of William Webb,” an African-American Civil War soldier with the 29th (Colored) Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry.

South Windsor High School history teacher Greg Frank and Meriden resident Chris Svejk, both of whom are reenactors with Company H 1st Maryland Regiment of the Confederacy, presented lessons on the differences between today’s military and those who fought in the Civil War.

“I think the hands-on [experience] is so much more effective,” said Svejk about the day’s educational value, especially because the Civil War was not so long ago and actual items from that time are still available and even tangible.

Svejk described weapons used in the Civil War, impressing the children that it took nine steps to prepare a rifle for shooting. The children learned that the phrase “don’t go off half-cocked” refers to these many steps. The reenactors also taught the children to play “town ball,” a Civil War-era game somewhat similar to baseball.

“I think the idea of the day-to-day life,” said Charles Brooks, “is completely different than learning in the classroom.” For the reenactment, Brooks portrayed the drill sergeant, teaching the students how to line up by regiment and march. Brooks has been a reenactor himself for 13 years as a corporal in the 27th Connecticut Infantry.

Laurie Young, a paraprofessional at Orchard Hill Elementary School, presented sessions on women in the Civil War. From Young, the students learned that more than 1,000 women disguised themselves and participated in the Civil War. “For me, researching and understanding the hardship was eye-opening,” said Young. “If you can just get them thinking that it wasn’t all about the battles. There were women at home doing amazing things.”

At the end of the day, the students lined up in their regiments to receive President Abraham Lincoln, also known as special education teacher Robert Frances, who spoke to the students as if they were soldiers in the war, asking about the rations and if they had written home to their mothers. “It’s hard to be in a reenactment,” said Jake, one of the four buglers who sounded alarms throughout the day and closed the encampment with the playing of “Taps.”

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