Students get lessons on Civil War

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 20, 2011

SALISBURY — Terry Holt, in the role of physician, instructed the young Civil War recruits to line up in front of him for a medical examination.
It was a ragtag group.
“Can you hear?” Holt shouted to the youngsters as they stepped forward.
“Do your arms work?”
“Do your knees work?”
“How are your teeth?”
“Do you have any other medical conditions?”
Each potential soldier answered “yes” to the hearing question, “no” to the medical conditions query, “fine” or “good” as to the teeth and raised their arms and legs to show everything was working physically.
“Are you ready to enlist?” Drill Sgt. Luther Sowers then asked. “We don’t have time to waste. We got a war to fight.”
By choosing colored marbles, the 14 recruits were divided into two seven-member companies — one with the Union, one with the South. They lied and said they were 18 and old enough to fight, and soon they were going through a supply line and picking up their equipment: a haversack, blue or gray T-shirt, tin plate, tin cup, fork, pistol, rifle, two rounds of ammunition, a blue or gray kepi, paper and a stubby pencil.
“We’re going to start making soldiers of you,” Sowers promised.
The Grays chose Marshall Brady as their commander. They swore allegiance to the Confederate States of America. The Blues selected Jasmine Richard, and her company repeated the oath of allegiance to the United States of America.
”Bugler,” Holt told Alden Wright, “sound assembly.”
And with those notes floating in the air Tuesday morning, Rowan Museum’s first-ever Civil War Camp was under way. Over three days, 14 middle-schoolers were forsaking things such as video games, cell phones, MP3 players and afternoons at the pool for a step back in time — 150 years back to the country’s most horrible, bloody period.
“When do we get to shoot somebody?” Ben Coulter joked after the fake rifles and pistols were issued with exploding caps as ammunition.
Their Civil War battle actually comes this afternoon at the Old Stone House in Granite Quarry. Until then, the new enlistees went through a lot of drilling, medical training, marching, individual and company flag-making and reconnaissance — learning things about how the Civil War was fought and lived, even in Salisbury.
“Today surpassed what I even thought it could be,” said Kaye Brown Hirst, executive director of Rowan Museum Inc.
Tuesday’s first day included instruction at the Rowan Museum, the old county courthouse that already was in existence during the Civil War. The new troops also marched to the Salisbury Emporium, where owner Mickey Black gave details about the Civil War arsenal that had been located across the railroad tracks along today’s Kerr Street.
After the arsenal, it was a quick march to the Old Lutheran Cemetery, where the soldiers had lunch under a shade tree before drilling more with Salisbury High student Simon Connolly, clad in full Confederate dress.
Gravesite visit
In the cemetery, Holt took both companies to the grave of Salisbury’s Col. Charles Fisher, the first Rebel officer to have died in the war at the Battle of Manassas (Bull Run, to Northerners).
Connolly guided each company through a gun salute to Fisher.
“I like being the commander because it makes me feel like I’m in charge of something,” said Richard, a rising seventh-grader at North Rowan Middle School and the only female among the troops.
For many of the middle-graders, their only exposure to Civil War history had come in the fifth grade.
“It’s good,” Brady, a rising eighth-grader said of the camp. “I like marching and pretending to be in the Civil War. … And it happened right here, in Salisbury.”
Will Anthony said he “just felt like learning about the Civil War.” He will be a rising sixth-grader at North Rowan Middle.
Mack Freeman, going into the sixth grade at Erwin Middle, said he has read a lot about history in general through books and computer research — “just because I want to.”
He recalled fondly going to a French and Indian War reenactment at Fort Dobbs in Statesville. “I thought it was cool up there,” Freeman said. And he still remembers a trip when he was younger to Charleston, S.C., a city with a rich Civil War history.
Freeman loves to ride horses.
“If I bring my horse tomorrow,” he asked Holt, “can I be in the cavalry?”
“If you bring your horse tomorrow,” Holt answered, staying in character, “we’ll have him for lunch.”
The sessions last from 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. each day. Today’s activities take in period-correct cooking and recreation, the battle and writing letters home. Thursday, the final day, will include an exchange of prisoners between the companies; discussions of the Salisbury Confederate Prison; walks to the National Cemetery, Hall House and Confederate Monument; and — don’t tell the Grays — a surrender.
Today’s battle was already predetermined: Each side could expect one dead, two wounded and two captured.
Tough life
The soldier’s life was not an easy one, given the dangers they faced in battles, the constant marching and all the hardtack they were eating.
Holt reminded the recruits that the typical pay was $11 a month. And when they enlisted, he added, they were signing up for the whole war.
“Take care of your feet, take care of your insides,” Holt advised them.
And the last place they wanted to end up was the Salisbury Confederate Prison, Holt added.
“Make sure you do everything to avoid being captured,” he said.
Holt shared with the soldiers how punishment for bad behavior was carried out, and they received a good overview of the “compass war” — how it was a battle between North and South that was conducted mainly in the east and west.
Things turned to the North’s favor, they learned, when the Union scored victories in 1863 in both the east and west — Gettysburg and Vicksburg, respectively.
Sowers put both companies through their first-ever drills Tuesday morning, teaching them the basics of turning, standing, marching and shouldering their arms.
He drilled the Union company first.
After the session ended, Sowers concluded, “God save the North.” But when his work with the Rebel company had finished, he changed his tune.
“The tide of the battle has changed,” Sowers reported. “Now it’s God help the South.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or