Over the course of two days this week, 500 juniors from Chesterton High School got a taste – literally – of the life of a Union soldier during the Civil War living in an encampment.
There was the smell of a campfire, the sound of a musket fire, the taste of salt pork and hardtack, the feel of a woolen uniform on a hot day and the gruesome details of the wounds, infections, illnesses and deaths.
“It was cool to see the Civil War being more than dates or something,” said Gigi Hanner, 16, of Chesterton, who attended one of the camps on Monday. “It was more intricate detail than what you would get from just reading a manual.”
The Civil War Camp has been a staple for students of U.S. History and Advanced Placement for 17 years, said social science professor Robert DeRuntz, dressed as a Union officer for the occasion.
The tradition was interrupted last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Last year was the first year we haven’t done it. It’s great to be back, ”DeRuntz said, adding that there was a“ pent-up demand ”from the students for the camp, which took place Monday and Tuesday in the high school yard.
The program consisted of three parts: the enrollment of a student in the Union army, who would then be equipped with a full military uniform; an explanation and sample of the food that Civil War soldiers relied on by social studies professor Anna Zervos, as well as an amputation demonstration on a dummy named Billy Yank and a description of the medical horrors of the war ; and the recitation of President Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburg by DeRuntz to conclude the program.
Zervos, in a patterned orange dress from the Civil War era, said the Civil War camps had “followers”, which included laundresses and the wives of officers, who would help treat wounded soldiers.
“Living history is something tangible so it makes a bigger impression on the students,” said Tom Darnell of Chesterton, who started volunteering with the camp while still a CHS student. and has been doing so on and off for almost 16 years.
The sound of the musket, the food, the period clothing all contribute to a more memorable lesson for the students.
“It’s a bit more lasting of a print than a manual,” he said.
DeRuntz set the stage for the program.
“It is 1862. War is upon us and I want to thank you for your service,” he told the students, who unwittingly joined the Union army just by coming to class. story.
Lincoln, said DeRuntz, initially sent 75,000 troops into the military for three months, but the first battle at Bull Run “didn’t go well. We got flogged by Johnny Rebel. Lincoln then called on 1 million soldiers to serve for three years.
DeRuntz and Zervos weaved pieces of history and details of the era into their presentations. As Thomas Fadell, 16, of Chesterton, donned a Union uniform piece by piece over his jeans and shirt, DeRuntz went over the details of the unique uniform each soldier received for the duration. of his service.
The color of the stripes on the pants, for example, denoted a soldier’s rank.
“You can walk around a Union camp and find out what function they performed based on their uniform,” DeRuntz said.
He walked through the nine steps to load and fire a musket and did not demonstrate by firing a black powder cartridge until the students had successfully listed all the steps.
Then Zervos had her turn, switching from hardtack, made with water, salt and flour, and salted pork, which she described as “a salty version of pork rinds”. There was also soup, made with white beans, ham, bacon and carrots. Most products, other than root vegetables, were scarce, and the lack of oranges and vitamin C they provide led to scurvy.
The lack of sanitation in one camp as well as a general lack of hygiene meant that the camp “stank of heaven”, she said, adding that the overcrowded conditions had only accelerated the spread of the disease. diseases and lice.
The students listened intently to DeRuntz recite the Gettysburg Speech, Lincoln’s iconic speech delivered on November 19, 1863, at the dedication of a national cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
“Never forget the sacrifice of so many thousands of people to preserve this union, including Abraham Lincoln himself,” De Runtz said after concluding the speech.
As the students dispersed to return to the building, they were clearly in awe of what they had witnessed.
“I liked how realistic it was and how they dressed,” said Kendra Ritchie, 16, of Liberty Township. “It’s really cool to learn what the ideas were back then.”