By Mary O’KEEFE
The Civil War, also known as the “War Between the States,” was fought between 1861 and 1865. The United States was torn apart, with one side fighting for the North wearing blue uniforms while the South was outfitted in gray.
From the first shot fired at Fort Sumter to the South’s surrender at the Appomattox Courthouse, the battles were bloody, ripping families apart as sides were chosen. At the end, 620,000* men died (there were 405,399 military deaths in World War II). The Civil War was fought on United States’ soil and even those states that were “out West” were affected by the war and its aftermath. (*Recent scholarship puts the number of Civil War armies’ deaths at over 700,000.)
For Rosemont Middle School eighth grade students, learning about the Civil War is part of the curriculum but it is also a school tradition. Civil War Days were created by Rosemont teachers, including now retired teacher Lynn McGinnis, as an interactive way to teach about the war and its history.
Recently the school invited students and parents to Civil War Days where they watched the last moments of President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre, had a Civil War soldier teach a cooking class, listened to a Northern soldier talk about weaponry, learned to march like a soldier and saw how difficult it was to be a doctor on the battlefield.
Those in attendance were separated into groups, each group being assigned to a specific learning station. At the end of each session members from the Rosemont music department played them from one station to another with pipes and drums.
In the cafeteria the kids learned about the tragic events that led to Lincoln’s assassination. Lincoln, as portrayed by teacher Mike Anker, spoke about why he went to the theatre and how he was finally able to relax as the war ended until John Wilkes Booth fired that final shot.
Ron Sowers may have retired as Rosemont’s assistant principal but that did not mean he would not come back for special events like Civil War Days. Sowers showed his skills as a cook when he taught the kids and their parents how those living in the 1800s made bean soup, which he shared with the audience, and the all important hardtack, a very hard piece of bread/cracker that soldiers could carry for weeks without its spoiling.
Charly Shelton portrayed a Civil War doctor and told the students how they too could be recruited into the medical field. All it took was some brief instructions and they could go into the field to help fallen soldiers.
“You know the term ‘bite the bullet?’” Shelton asked. “A lot may think this is what the soldiers would bite on as amputations were [done] or other [treatments] but that’s not exactly true. They had opium.”
Opium was used so often to medicate that soldiers became addicted.
The students were given paperwork filled with questions to answer with the information they learned during the event.