Despite the high temperatures of the day, the Civil War Discovery camp sponsored by the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall and Museum proved to be great fun and a great way to learn American history.
It’s the sixth year for this one-day camp. Fifteen children, ages 8 to 14, participated in this hands-on history lesson on Aug. 10 and discovered what a day in the life of a Civil War soldier might have been like.
Ten adults in period-correct clothing (including heavy woolen uniforms) provided the historical education. In the past, the event was held at the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Island Park. Due to construction on the Island, the event was moved to Howe Field.
“We miss being on the Island, but this has worked out fine,” said Chris Allen, who coordinated the events of the day. Allen is the vice president of the Museum’s Board of Directors. He stepped up when Keith Harrison, the President of the Museum, had some health issues and was unable to attend. The city was helpful in accessing Howe Field, Allen said, which also has some construction going on.
The GAR Island Park has special significance to the GAR as it was the location where the Eaton County Civil War Veterans held their annual reunions from 1908 until 1929.
“We have a great group of volunteers. None of this would be possible without them,” Allen said. The volunteers are re-enactors from Jackson, Concord, Williamston, and beyond; most are members of Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.
The children were invited to discover what a day in the life of a Civil War soldier might have been like. They practiced marching and drilling with wooden muskets, participated in a mock battle, learned about the food a soldier would have eaten and the items he carried with him.
Information about the role of women in the Civil War was highlighted during the day, with the stories of Annie Etheridge and Sarah Edmonds.
“What we hope to do is instill a spark of interest in history,” Allen said.
“They’ve been talking about it all week long,” said Kelly Caber, the mother of two campers from Springport, “especially about the shooting and getting money when they muster out.”
A highlight of the day for the campers was being able to fire reproduction Civil War-era muskets. Safety precautions are taken, which include the wearing of safety glasses and earplugs. Their excitement was obvious when a mock battle, using wooden muskets, was staged, the blue versus gray. Battle cries were heard and military strategies were used, but the Rebels were the clear winner of the battle.
“My favorite part of the day is seeing their faces light up when they fire a musket,” Allen said. “And when they argue over who gets to carry the flag in battle.”
At the end of the day, campers were “mustered out” of the military and received their discharge papers and $13 in “pay” back at the museum. The Museum plans on hosting the event again next year.
For more information about the Civil War Discovery Camp, contact the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall and Museum by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 517-922-6427. You can find them on Facebook or visit their website at garmuseum.com.