Fescue and oak leaves crunched underfoot.
Seasoned commanders maneuvered squads of raw recruits as if they were pawns on a chess board.
Once again, the Centralia Intermediate fifth grade students were fighting the War Between the States. This time in the scant acres behind Centralia Intermediate School.
“So they can really learn the Civil War, learn what it was really all about,” said Kelly Dickerson a CIS fifth-grade teacher and overall commander of the event, speaking as the troops took a break for a period-style lunch. “They also learn how we need to work together and how our country became divided.”
That included, Dickerson said, that the war had more than one cause. “They learn that it wasn’t all slavery – everybody thinks it was totally about slavery, but it wasn’t.”
His ears still ringing from the roar of custom-made iron-bodied cannon, its bore sleeved in steel for safety reasons, veteran Civil War reenactor agreed. The cannon’s name is Caroline, said First Sergeant Nancy Knotts, named after director John Landis’ wife.
“They learn the seriousness of what happened during the Civil War,” Pauley said as a squad of reenactors speedily readied the cannon for another shot. “You lost your friends, you lost your family, they all disappeared during the Civil War. We’re here today to teach them about the losses of the Civil War, the losses of death.”
Pauley said that after the battles, he and the other reenactors pull the students aside and ask them to look at those students portraying the battlefield casualties. “We ask them, ‘How would you feel if that was your father dead? Your brother dead? Then what are you going to do?’”
One aspect of the project that means it was more than just playing war all day, CIS teacher Kelly Dickerson said, was involving the social studies and language classes as well as history, said Dickerson, herself a history teacher.
The school’s fifth-grade citizen-soldiers involve their English classes by writing letters home, Dickerson said. And of course, the historical and social aspects are covered in their respective sections.
That sunny Friday, she said, was the 26th year the school district’s students had gone through Civil War Days, and the ninth under Dickerson’s command.
Civil War Day’s participants learned about the war from more than the fighters’ view point. Samantha Chinn spent most of the day lecturing perhaps two dozen young ladies and one young man on the role of women and children as noncombatants. “Your only goal is to help,” Chinn talking about being a field nurse, how to make bandages and use them to help treat wounds, along with lessons about how hard it was to be a woman during the. “You don’t see color, you took an oath to help.”
“Exercises such as this are important for every generation,” Chinn said. “It is how they need to learn the mistakes that were made so they do not repeat them.”
Lots of reenactors, Chinn said, know the dangers of allowing histories to repeat themselves. “Every generations has its reenactors, who reenact the horrors of that generation so others will learn from the mistakes made, World War I, World War II, the War of 1812 and the civil war. We help people, especially children, with things like the Civil War Days, so those mistakes will never be forgotten.”