The field behind Olive Peirce Middle School became an authentic Confederate Army encampment for its eighth-graders when Company E, 3rd Regiment of Confederate Engineers depicted the lives and roles of soldiers for the school’s fifth annual Civil War Living History Day.
The event, put on by the school’s U.S. history team on Friday, served as a prelude to the students’ study of the Civil War.
“We like to call it ‘Velcro learning,’” said Nancy Sumerel, eighth-grade history teacher who spearheaded the event, explaining that it sticks to the brain. “They really come away with a lot.”
Several pup tents were pitched on the ground, while an assortment of Confederate and Union flags fluttered in the light breeze of the morning. Replica tools, money, weapons and cavalry saddles were on display, including two telegraph stations for hands-on learning experiences.
“You know, I think what it is, they really get a feel of what it’s like, and that’s why we call it ‘living history,’” said Mary Jane Mumford, eighth-grade U.S. history teacher.
Students listened attentively as the officers of Company E took turns talking about the living conditions the soldiers faced.
Major Mike French, wearing a surgeon’s coat, described vivid scenes of amputations and surgery performed on the wounded where anesthesia and good sanitation were rarely used.
French explained that most of the soldiers died more from disease than wounds suffered on the battlefield because hygiene was so poor. The soldiers bathed only if they fell into a river or creek they happened to be crossing, he said. “Soldiers wore their uniforms until they literally rotted off of them.”
After brief presentations about flags, soldiering, weapons and uniforms, the company drafted two students into the rank and file. Callie Guasti and James Jones, dressed as soldiers, received drilling instructions and experienced marching in formation and aiming and firing rifles as part of the regiment.
“It was really realistic,” Gausti said. “Just getting it firsthand, actually understanding, actually experiencing what it was really like. I really enjoyed it.”
It was an experience that Mumford hoped the students would take away.
“For kids, this kind of gives them a realistic approach instead of always just in the classroom,” she said.
“It was pretty awesome,” said Jones. “Just holding the gun made me feel powerful, like I was actually there.”
“It really does connect their learning,” said Mumford. “They see the Civil War as people being involved, and not just an event. And that’s, I think, our goal in eighth-grade history, to really look at the history of our country through the eyes of the people that lived it.”
And these guys of Company E are good primary sources, Mumford added.
Colonel Reed Settle, founder of Company E, said that by giving the students a visual sense of the past and a chance to participate in it and pick up the weapons and signal flags, they would retain a lot more information.
“And when they start studying the Civil War and they start talking about the weapons and how bad it was in the field and the medical issues, they’re going to remember Major French, they’re going to remember the tables on display,” Settle said.
Settle, a Ramona resident, was born in Virginia and is an architect. His relatives fought for General “Stonewall” Jackson in the Confederate Army. He formed the regiment out of interest for the real-life company of engineers.
The real Company E fought up and down the Shenandoah Valley throughout the war and participated in the Battle of New Market where they successfully assaulted and took several artillery pieces from the Federals, said Reed.
The Civil War was one of the most tragic times in our history, said Mumford. “Over 600,000 people died during the Civil War, but it also shows that we became unified; and they came out of it stronger and more unified.”
If there is a lesson to take away from the studies of the Civil War, it is that “you do have to compromise, you do have to get along. We want to compromise before we ever get to this point again, because our country was founded on compromise,” Mumford said.
Company E can next be seen in a Civil War re-enactment in Vista April 17 and 18. More information may be found at hartsengineers.com.