Story by Dick Mason
istory marched off the printed page Thursday at Central Elementary School.
Central's sixth-graders, left their classrooms to step 139 years back in time. They did so to reenact "Pickett's Charge,'' the famous battle in Gettysburg, Pa., which was a turning point of the American Civil War.
Except for their young faces and absence of weapons the approximately 60 sixth-graders looked the part. They came dressed as Union and Confederate soldiers, doctors and orderlies. The children left with a better understanding of the significance and horror of the Civil War.
"It had a real impact on them,'' said Central sixth-grade teacher Lisa Nicholson.
Nicholson has helped put on the reenactment for three years as part of a Civil War unit taught at Central that is based on the Interact curriculum program.
Central sixth-grade teacher Tina Sudbrock and student teachers Kim Shoop and Amy Trina also helped organize the reenactment of Pickett's Charge.
The students started the reenactment by marching in formation. The sixth-graders sang songs and yelled chants of the 1860s while marching in the manner of soldiers of the day.
Students representing the Union voiced their objections to slavery in the South, shouting, "Set them free and let them be.''
The sixth-graders also sang Civil War-era songs like Dixie and The Bonnie Blue Flag.
Pickett's Charge involved Gen. George Edward Pickett's attempt to win control of Cemetery Ridge. On July 3, 1863, Pickett's division charged up the hill to Cemetery Ridge in the face of heavy fire. His troops broke through a part of Union lines.
After fierce fighting Pickett's men fell back. About 6,000 of the 15,000 men Pickett started with died.
The failure of Pickett's charge ended the Battle of Gettysburg.
On Thursday no Central sixth-graders carried any guns, but all carried out assigned roles in the battle. Some fell to the ground, representing the many causalities. These children were carried by their classmates to a hospital tent at Central.
In the tent the wounded were treated by students playing the role of doctors and orderlies. Civil War era doctors had limited means of treating patients. In some instances they placed blood-sucking leaches on the wounded to drain the poison from their bodies.
No leaches were used of course at Central, but green beans representing leaches were placed on the wounded.
Madeline McCarthy and Martha McAlister, both students in Nicholson's class, were among those who worked in the hospital tent. Both said that this was their favorite part of the reenactment.
Madeline and Martha, like all of Central's sixth-graders, spent a lot of time outside of class preparing for Pickett's Charge.
Madeline McCarthy baked hard tacks, a staple of Civil War soldiers. Hard tacks consisted of flour and salt and were not particularly tasty. The sixth-grader said they tasted like flour.
Following the reenactment the sixth-graders had to write about the battle. The students wrote letters home to their parents as if it were 1863 and they had just seen or taken part in Pickett's Charge. The things the children wrote were sobering.
Some discussed the horror of seeing their best friend in a sea of blood. Others wrote things like "I'm affected forever.''
The Pickett's charge reenactment was one of the final activities in a Civil War unit for Central's sixth-graders. The children read books and watched videos about the war. They also heard a presentation on the war by Bruce Ferguson of La Grande.
The many causes of the war including slavery were discussed. Students also learned about Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. This was the speech delivered by Lincoln at the dedication of the national cemetery at Gettysburg on Nov. 19, 1863.
A number of Central's sixth-graders have since memorized the address, Nicholson said.
Throughout the unit the magnitude of the tragedy of the Civil War, which claimed about 600,000 lives, is emphasized. Sudbrock noted that many soldiers were initially excited about going to war. The cold reality soon hit them once they entered the battlefield.
A similar scenario unfolded during Thursday's reenactment of Pickett's Charge, Sudbrock said. Some children were excited beforehand but this attitude soon changed.
"They learned about the reality of war. War is not fun and glory,'' Sudbrock said.