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Living history: Students get a glimpse into a soldier's life

| Monday, April 10, 2006

With their jackets pulled tightly around their bodies, eighth-grade students at Southmoreland Junior High School learned about life during the Civil War life while on their first field trip to West Overton Museums on Saturday during the annual Civil War Living History event.

Tim Scott, junior high principal, said the day was part of a three-year partnership with West Overton to add life to the students' curriculum on the Civil War.

"This is just one of the activities the students take part in to learn more about the Civil War," Scott said. "There are other things that go on throughout the year. We get everyone involved in the subject, from the home economics department to the art department."

Scott said that the day at West Overton gets a lot of student participation.

"The great thing about this day is that it's 100 percent related to learning," he said. "I can't think of a better way for the students to get a sense of what life was like then. It's a very high interest activity, and we don't have to take them to Gettysburg to learn about the Civil War. We can bring them right here, just about 2 miles from the school."

Students were given demonstrations on how a cannon was fired, what kind of food soldiers ate and how it was cooked, what kind of clothing was popular during the Civil War era and what a blacksmith did. They even learned about period music and had a talk with Mary Todd Lincoln, President Lincoln's wife.

Bob Simmons, of Bear Rocks, is the resident blacksmith at West Overton. He came out Saturday to teach the students about the role of a blacksmith during the Civil War era.

"I try to get across how important a blacksmith was to everyone back then," Simmons said. "Most assume that a blacksmith's main job was to shoe horses, but really, most blacksmiths didn't. Their main job was to do things like repair farm machinery, make household items from pots and pans to silverware and turn plow shares into swords or swords into plowshares -- whatever was needed at any given time."

Lisa McDowell was busy cooking vegetable soup, strong coffee and even a cherry pie over an outside fire -- using cast iron kettles and a Dutch oven.

"I like to tell students things they might not have known before," she said. "Both canned milk and canned vegetables were available back then. A can of evaporated milk that costs us 50 cents today, cost $1 back then."

She added that the common misconception that the food was bland is untrue.

"They used chives and paprika, and they even used some spices that we don't really use too much today," McDowell said.

Students Leisha Driscoll and Katy Barkovtch enjoyed themselves. Both said the cannon firing was the best part of the day.

"It's a little cold, but this whole day was a good idea," Driscoll said. "It's easier to learn when you actually get to see a visual."

Mary Ann Mogus, West Overton's interim director, said the museums received calls from other schools this year who were hoping to participate in the event. However, with the recent departure of the director, the museum was unable to oblige.

Next year, officials are hoping to accommodate any other schools that might be interested.

"We do ask for $4 per student so that we can pay the expenses of the re-enactors," she said.

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