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Civil War re-enactor preps W.R. Paynter students for Gettysburg visit

| Wednesday, April 11, 2001

The Civil War came alive Tuesday for students at W.R. Paynter Elementary School in Baldwin Borough.

From bayonets to hard tack to gum blankets, the second-graders from Kirsten Bilbi's class got a lesson on the life of a Confederate soldier from Civil War re-enactor Bob Laux.

Dressed in the wool uniform he wears when re-enacting battles with other members of the 7th Tennessee Volunteers, the Bethel Park resident showed students the items a Confederate soldier would carry into battle.

A gum blanket, or weather proof tarp, which was carried slung across the soldier's shoulder, could be used as a sleeping mat, a rain poncho or even as part of a shelter, explained Laux, a professor of pharmacology at Duquesne University.

Such versatility was important for a Civil War soldier who carried '40 pounds of equipment and marched 20 miles in the hot sun,' he said.

Laux's visit was a prelude to the class' upcoming trip to Gettysburg. The students are scheduled to make a one-day trip April 21 to the famous Pennsylvania battlefield.

The students, who have been studying the war, donated $525 raised through a read-a-thon to a fund for restoring the monuments at the battlefield.

Yesterday, the Paynter students presented the money to state Rep. Harry Readshaw, a Carrick Democrat. Readshaw, also a Civil War re-enactor, has been active with groups working toward the monument restoration.

Students got a chance to sample peanuts and hard tack, staples of the Confederate soldier's diet. Each soldier carried enough rations for three days, Laux said.

Laux also demonstrated what a soldier would have to do to fire the 1858 Enfield muskets they carried into battle, and actually fired the weapon for the students.

'A soldier could fire three bullets a minute, but you've got to load each one,' Laux said.

The re-enactor also affixed the bayonet to his weapon and explained that 'not many men were injured with bayonets during the Civil War.'

Laux told his audience that the reason the bayonet charge was so effective was that when soldiers saw a group of enemy soldiers coming at them with bayonets leveled, they were most likely to beat a hasty retreat.

Turned upside down and stuck in the ground, a bayonet made a great candle holder, he added.

As fascinated as the students were with the stories of a soldier's life, most said they wouldn't have wanted to be a Civil War soldier.

'You had to eat bad food, and you could get killed very easily,' Ashley Scheider said.

Susan Schmeichel can be reached at sschmeichel@tribweb.com or (412) 306-4527.

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