SPARTA — Civil war has erupted at Highland Middle School — sort of.
Re-enactors from the 121st Ohio Volunteer Infantry, based in Marion — and commanded by Mount Vernon resident Henry Banning during the war between the states — visited the school Tuesday for a daylong series of presentations and hands-on activities about the Civil War. The Civil War is part of Ohio’s eighth-grade history standards.
In the morning, the eighth-graders rotated through six stations conducted by men and women in authentic Civil War-period costumes, learning about the facets of life of an Ohio soldier during the conflict. They also experienced the Battle of Vicksburg and had to scramble under their desks when attacked.
Mark Melroy, an officer in the re-enactment group, said the re-enactors conduct the soldier school and talk with students about the clothing, food, weapons and living conditions of the Ohio fighting men.
“Because,” he explained, “the kids typically learn a lot as far as what general did this and what general did that, or what battle was fought, but they don’t really look into the aspects of the people that actually did the day-to-day fighting.”
Students also learned about some of the people behind the scenes on a battlefield. Macy Winkelfoos said she was impressed with the role women played during the war. She was interested to learn that women went to camp with the soldiers and did things such as make blankets and serve as volunteer nurses. She was also amazed that they could work in the elaborate, long, hooped dresses they wore back then.
Student Shawn Beltz said learning about a soldier’s camp life was fun. Although he decided it would have been hard to be an infantryman during the Civil War, Beltz thought finding out about the weaponry was “cool.” He said he was interested to discover the types of weapons they used, how they used them and how the weapons have evolved.
In the afternoon, weaponry was further discussed as the classes went outside for actual demonstrations. One of the re-enactors told the eighth-graders one of the only requirements for a man to get into the Army at that time was he had to have four teeth.
“Not so much for eating,” he explained, “but to be able to load his rifle.”
He then demonstrated how the soldier had to bite off the end of a cartridge to expose the powder before loading it into the barrel of the rifle.
Students had the chance to handle simulated weapons as re-enactors taught them how to pick up arms, shoulder arms and support arms. Students also practiced company maneuvers such as files right, files left and close ranks.
The day culminated with the firing of the company cannon.
This morning a showing of the movie “Gettysburg” was planned, after which 85 eighth-graders and their chaperones were to board buses bound for Washington, D.C. They will visit the national park at Gettysburg, Pa., on their way to Washington.