Reliving the Civil War

Re-enactors bring history alive for students



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Catricia Vandercreek finds her Civil War uniform a bit awkward during a Civil War re-creation at Ash Creek Intermediate School May May 21.

INDEPENDENCE -- When Civil War re-enactor Mark East slips into the blue cotton uniform of a Union soldier -- or the Confederate gray -- his goal is time travel.

East has participated in historic mock battles around Oregon for the last five years. He said the time travel occurs once you lose yourself in the moment, when the "evidence of the 20th century begin to fade away."

Last week, East and about a dozen other history hobbyists converged at Ash Creek Intermediate School, to re-create elements of the Civil War era for fifth- and sixth-grade students.

"We want to give them an idea of what it was like 140 years ago, and then have them go back to class wanting to know more," said Beth Miller of Salem, decked out in a Union uniform. "You can get names and dates out of a text book, but not what life was really like."

For a day, the open field south of the school doubled as Yankee and Rebel tent encampments in 1863 West Virginia. The group described civilian life during the war, discussed the harsh brutality on the battlefield, and demonstrated muskets and other weaponry.

"I learned a lot," Jonathan Myrie, 13, said. "I didn't know it took them three minutes just shoot three bullets."

About every 20 minutes, a group portraying an artillery company fired a working replica of a period Naval cannon, a highlight for 11-year-old Cameron Gapinski.

"That was really awesome," he said after a demonstration that sounded like thunder and left the acrid scent of gunpowder hanging in the air.

All of the re-enactors belong to the Northwest Civil War Council, a nonprofit organization that performs Civil War reenactments in Oregon and across the country.

The group has visited schools in Independence annually for the past several years, said Dale Clawson, a fifth-grade teacher at Ash Creek.

"Their curriculum covers (the Civil War) right up to the Reconstruction," he said. "So this ties in closely to what they're looking at in social studies right now.

"What we want to do is give the kids an understanding that the people who fought this war were real people," he also said, "that the soldiers could have been their dads and brothers."

"It was very cool to see what war was like in those years," said 11-year-old Josh Thornton.

Students gathered around one tent site to hear Mark Stevens, acting as a sergeant of the 116th Pennsylvania Irish Brigade, talk about troops doing 15 mile patrols with 60-pound packs on their shoulders, dysentery, surgeries without anesthesia and other aspects of life in the infantry.

He displayed the standard daily rations for a soldier: hardtack - a biscuit with the texture of a jawbreaker - and salt pork.

"Soldiers were given about a pound of salt pork a day," he said. "It tastes like you're chewing up the Pacific Ocean."

Nearby, Harold Slavik of Springfield, or "Randolph Barton of the 2nd Virginia Infantry" let the kids sample a bit of "sloosh" -- a concoction of bacon grease, molasses and corn meal.

Slavik, who noted his great, great-grandfather fought in the Civil War, said the food was just another way to make the re-enactment experience historically accurate.

"We're trying to duplicate as much as possible the way things were in 1863," he said.



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