Students Bring Civil War to Life: Re-Enact Battle by Living Life like a Soldier

Article excerpt

Wounded boys laid on the side of the trail and girls mourned as Union army soldiers marched into Bon Air Park.

Moments later the Confederates arrived. The Battle of Bon Air Park erupted.

For the seventh-graders of Swanson Middle School in Arlington, the year was 1864 and the Civil War was raging.

The students had been studying the Civil War since the second week of classes. They read novels about the war, saw artifacts from Fort Ward Park and listened to guests speakers.

They also had a chance to bring what they learned to life.

The Battle of Bon Air Park, said history teacher Cathy Hix, is "the culminating act to put it all together."

"I thought that this helped me experience what it was really like," said Michael McCabe, 12.

The students spent one Friday morning last month experiencing Civil War life. They practiced marching drills in the school yard, then split up into opposing factions and marched from Swanson to the park.

Once there, the students rotated among learning stations. These stations showed different aspects of Civil War military life, including the Union and Confederate points of view. The re-enactors who ran the stations displayed artifacts and gave details and instructions on how to use equipment.

There were hospitals where students learned about the medical practices of the times. They also learned about camp life, where they wrote and received letters, tasted hardtack and had a rifle firing demonstration.

Then there was the battle of Bon Air Park, where the students played "capture the flag."

In addition to learning basic facts about Civil War life, students also were educated in the smaller, lesser known details. For example, soldiers needed at least two top and two bottom teeth that met so that they could bite into gunpowder cartridges to load their weapons. …