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Students get lesson in living history

September 16, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

As they walked toward an artillery demonstration Friday morning, a group of school children used the opportunity to pepper a re-enactor with questions.

"Are you going to die?" one asked. "Are you on the enemy side?"

Hundreds of students came to the site of the 140th Commemoration of the Battle of Antietam, where they bought souvenirs, talked to re-enactors and snapped photos.

At the demonstration site, cannons boomed, soldiers marched and cavalrymen fired weapons from horseback. The event was put on especially for the students, who lined up along the border.

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Greg Pheabus, a fifth-grader at Maugansville Elementary School, stood with a disposable camera, trying to snap a photo of a smoke ring created by a cannon.

"It's cool," he said. "The way they make the bullets look real and the way it sounds."

Zachary Koontz, also a fifth-grader at Maugansville Elementary, said he asked re-enactors what they eat for breakfast and what kinds of weapons they have.

"I'm really into the Civil War and stuff," he said.

Before the artillery demonstration, the students were free to roam the 1,200-acre site, under chaperone guidance.

Some headed to the medical area, where the undertaker's tent seemed especially popular.

A dummy, named Andrew, lay on "undertaker" J.D. Avery's table. Avery demonstrated how, during the Civil War, an undertaker would have pumped zinc oxide and arsenic into Andrew's main artery, forcing out his blood. During the demonstration, fake blood dripped into a glass bottle on the ground in Avery's tent.

Few soldiers were embalmed back then because it cost around $45, including a fee to ship the body home, Avery said.

On a battle day, Avery said, an undertaker would have had to embalm 40 to 100 men. If rushed, he could preserve a body in 45 minutes, but would take an hour to an hour and a half if he were not too busy, he told the students.

When he asked if anyone had questions, one girl asked Avery why he was dressed so nicely. Avery, clad in a pristine white shirt and black vest, said an undertaker had to "dress up."

Many of his colleagues died from constant absorption of arsenic used in the process, he said.

"I wish that was real blood," one boy said after the demonstration.

Another, before leaving, waved to the dummy. "Rest in peace, Andrew," he said.

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