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Mr. Ned Beck, an 8th grade Social Studies teacher at Pequea Valley Intermediate School, recently offered study of the Civil War with his students through the experiences of their own peers.
Beck enlisted the help of author and retired teacher, Mr. J. Arthur Moore, who had taught the “Boys’ War” for several years, and whose granddaughter is a student of his, he shared his thoughts. Moore, in turn, then contacted BSA Venture Crew 1861, a Civil War Fife & Drum Corps chartered in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to help bring the project into a living history presence. Thus the collaboration began that led to a unique student experience.
The classes began with a slide show of 72 images of real boys who were part of the war, including their photographs, battlefield sketches, artists’ representations, and images of markers, monuments, and books in commemoration of their lives. This is only fitting for a war in which more than 250,000 boys under the age of 18 participated in the ranks of both armies, and an additional number participated in their navies. Some researchers put the number closer to a million.
Most of the boys survived, some did not, most were teenagers, some much younger, some became famous, most are unknown, some were recognized by their nation’s highest commendation: the Medal of Honor.
Prior to the class, the students had read an excerpt from the book, Boys’ War, developed from the journals and letters of the boys who were there. They had also read the stories of boys from material developed by the Pennsylvania 150th Celebration of the Civil War website. From these readings, each developed a profile in a format provided by Mr. Beck. Then each developed his/her own profile. Some of these were shared in class.
In the Boys’ War excerpt, a description of a battle was developed from the writings of two boys, one Union and one Confederate. A clip of that battle sequence was shown in the form of three minutes from the movie, Gods and Generals. There followed a look at the kinds of ammunition used in guns and cannon.
Resources and a number of individual stories were shared. Johnny Clem ran away from home when he was ten and at the Battle of Chickamauga, shot a Confederate officer off his horse when he tried to capture the boy. Thus, by age eleven he became a lance sergeant on the staff of General Thomas. Eleven-year-old David Wood sneaked into the ranks of his father’s cavalry command. Realizing the boy wouldn’t stay home, he put him on his staff, but David, on his own, created a sutler business (a sutler is a person who sells provisions to an army in their camp, quarters, or in the field) netting him $2,000 by war’s end. Thirteen-year-old Orion Howe was seriously wounded delivering a message, while under constant enemy fire, to General Sherman to get ammunition for his regiment. He was awarded the Medal of Honor. Twelve-year-old Charley King from West Chester, Pennsylvania, became Drum Major for the Pennsylvania 49th. He was mortally wounded at the Battle of Antietam. Drummer Willie Johnston received his Medal of Honor for gallantry on the battlefield at age 11. Then there was the story of 10-year-old Tom Hunley, who wasn’t a boy at all. Tom Hunley’s true name was Anna, and her father led a unit. Anna’s father, having no one with whom to leave his daughter, cut her hair and took her with him. She never shared her story until she was in her sixties.
The class wrapped up with the story of the youngest soldier, 8-year-old Edward Black, and the part played in later life from the horrors of the memories and the reflection on the war experience for many in the adult lives, years later. In the case of Edward, he died at age 19 from what modern medicine calls post-traumatic stress. The reflection of a boy’s experience was then seen through that of Willie, in an 11-minute piece from The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.
Not only were these experiences shared, but the manner in which the research was done was also shared. A number of books were on display including original resources, researched materials, and historic fiction from which much could be learned from the history embedded in the stories.
In a following class, students went through a scripted experience where they enlisted as a new Pennsylvania regiment, which was historically formed on May 7, 1862, in response to President Lincoln’s call for 300,000 new Union troops. The students reported to camp just outside the building on the lawn near their classroom.
The camp was established by Mr. Michael Nedrow, Associate Advisor for BSA Venture Crew 1861 and his sons Ryan and Austin. The day’s program saw not only three in Civil War uniform, but also teachers in Civil War period civilian clothes. Mr. Nedrow portrayed Corporal Nethrow, preparing new recruits for their captain’s arrival. The boys portrayed a company fifer and drummer from the 1st Pennsylvania Reserve Corps Volunteers assigned to help the new Company train its own fifer and drummer. Each boy told his own story about how he came to join the 1st PRVC in 1861, as well as his thoughts and experiences during the first year of the war.
After a period of student questions, Corporal Nethrow took the new recruits aside to drill them and prepare them for the captain’s review.
Enlistment ‘contracts’ were passed out to students. The ‘contracts’ were signed and returned in exchange for a replica Springfield rifle made from wood. A fifer and a drummer were taken from student volunteers, dressed in period uniform, and sent off with the musicians to be taught how to play for the Grand Review. The rifle company was drilled in basic rifle maneuvers, and non-commissioned officers promoted from within their ranks. The column was taught how to march in column formation. The class exercised with the new company, performing a Grand Review on the front lawn of the Pequea Valley Intermediate School, with Principal Taylor Croft even enlisting in one of the companies.
Having completed their initial training, the troops were marched to the parade area where the musicians were assembled. There was a pass in review led by the four musicians. The musicians were thanked for their service and all were mustered out to gather for some closing information shared by Mr. Nedrow.
So ended this unique experience and collaboration which answered the question: what if you lived 150 years ago?
To learn more about Joel Moore’s latest book visit www.upfromcorinth.com.