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Yankees, Rebels call truce to teach at Boonsboro school

February 24, 2000

Civil War visitorBy BRUCE HAMILTON / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




Soldiers camped inside Boonsboro Elementary School's gymnasium Thursday and told students how hard it was to serve in the nation's Civil War.

cont. from front page

"You slept under the stars," Sandy Andrews told an eager crowd of youngsters. He crouched beside an unlighted pile of sticks in a stone circle. Children gathered around the gray-clad man under a rebel flag tied to a tree limb.

"You slept in the rain. You slept in the snow. You slept just where you dropped," he said.

Andrews was representing the 14th Tennessee Infantry Company B. Dominos arranged on his wool blanket formed the letters, "TENN."

Beside him, Andy Macomber took off his boot and his toes poked through a worn sock.

"I didn't have time to sew them," he told a student, adding that he was lucky to have socks. Andrews explained that he didn't have a tent, a horse or wagon. His group walked 18 miles from Harpers Ferry, W.Va., when the battle at Sharpsburg, known in the north as the Battle of Antietam, began.

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The "soldiers" were on hand for Civil War Living History Day, organized by Boonsboro Elementary's parent-teacher association.

"We're giving them a short course in the Civil War," said Kevin Rawlings. He brought along artifacts, including authentic personal effects such as a sewing kit, pipe and shaving mirror, and let the youngsters handle them.

As a group of kids gathered, he smiled through his long gray beard. "I am an artilleryman," he told them.

He showed them a gunner's pouch, canister balls, a friction primer and a mock fused shell with powder bag, explaining how they were used.

"Does anyone know what this is?" he asked, holding up a square of hardtack, a dense ration of bread Union soldiers often ate. "That looks like a rotten Pop Tart," said second-grader T.J. Pope.

The boy shook his head in disgust when Rawlings explained that soldiers would sometimes hit their hardtack and count the bugs. He grimaced when he heard the man's toothbrush was made of bone and hog bristle.

The group of kids marveled at Rawlings' amber bottles of whiskey issued for medicinal purposes, Confederate currency, twist of tobacco and letters wrapped in ribbon. They glanced at Bible tracts with titles such as, "Smoke Not," "False Humility, "Sin and its Wages."

At another table in the room's center, Mimi Rawlings wore civilian dress and demonstrated games such as "graces," wooden hoops flung with sticks between players, and "mancala," a board game with colored stones.

She showed that paper dolls reproduced from the 1850s had no tabs. She demonstrated how beeswax was used instead to stick clothes on the dolls. Students tried on period dress and played with rolling hoops.

Union soldiers stood on one side opposite the Confederates. They had a pitched tent and a gold-starred flag on a staff. Tom Piston introduced the members of the 7th Maryland Infantry Company A.

One of them was a Zouave, a soldier who wore red uniform with baggy pants, canvas and leather leggings, vest, a sash, fez and turban. Piston wore traditional blue Union clothes.

"If you've ever seen Civil War movies, they probably were dressed like I am," he said. He explained how musicians signaled with their instruments as his 12-year-old son, Matt Piston, delivered a loud drumroll.

The father later plunked out tunes on a banjo. He said the group was trying to help students understand how soldiers lived.

"The common soldier is very much overlooked and that's what we are trying to show here," he said.

Students said the activity was fun.

Third-grader Jacob Miller was impressed to learn that playing cards back then didn't have numerals because many soldiers couldn't read. "I learned they actually had toothbrushes in the war," said Dylan Stith.

From 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., classes rotated through the gym. "It's really working out well," said Laurie Metz, program coordinator for the PTA.

"We are so fortunate to be living in an area so rich in history and to have volunteers who are willing to share their knowledge," said Principal Melissa Warren.

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