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Students adopt blue and gray personas in remembering Civil War

One hundred fifty years after the first battles tore the nation apart, eighth-graders at Lee Burneson Middle School remembered the sacrifice and hardship that the American Civil War caused.

On the evening of May 17, 43 eighth-graders portrayed various Union and Confederate historical characters during the annual Civil War Ball Encampment.

The students’ portrayal of historical figures was a change from previous encampments, when adults from area historical organizations came to the school to talk about various aspects of the Civil War.

But eighth-grade history teacher Brad Behrendt, who helps organize the week’s events, wanted to get the students more involved in the lessons.

From 7 to 9:30 p.m., students moved to various classrooms, where their fellow students re-enacted various figures of the era during nine-minute sketches.

Cameron Brown, as Frederick Douglass, told of traveling through the Union states telling of the evils of slavery and how his autobiography became wildly popular in Europe. He also told of advocating for a larger role in the war for blacks.

“From the start of the war, I wanted slaves to be able to fight,” he said.

Caroline Hazapis, Madeline Lee, Lainey McCue, Vanessa Melikian and Jackie Schmauch portrayed Confederate women, Southern accents included. “We like the way we lived and didn’t want to change it,” one woman said of her feelings at the start of the war. They told of the sacrifices they made – such as sewing uniforms for the army and becoming nurses to care for the wounded – from the start of the conflict to the final surrender.

Justin Jazwa portrayed John Albert Clague, a Union soldier from Dover. Jazwa’s Clague gave students a demonstration of the process of loading Civil War-era rifles.

Sam Peplin displayed the agony of Robert E. Lee writing a resignation letter to Confederate President Jefferson Davis after taking a too aggressive strategy at Gettysburg. As Abraham Lincoln, Bruno Bush said the Union and Confederacy believed they were fighting for the same thing – freedom. After giving biographical information, he recited the Gettysburg Address, explaining that the Civil War was fought over one issue – slavery – that was beneath the dignity of all Americans.

Timmy Chrisman played a 19-year-old wounded Union soldier pouring his heart out to an Army nurse, portrayed by Missy Murthy. After telling of his hard home life on the farm following the death of his father, the solder is told he has gangrene that has infected his bloodstream and that he will die. “It looks now like the only thing you can do now is pray,” the nurse tells him.

“We’re teaching moments in time,” Behrendt said of the school’s Civil War lessons.

The students had the option of using scripts used during encampments of previous years, Behrendt said.

“Nobody needed that,” he said. “They all came up with their own scripts. Obviously, if they own it, they’re going to know it better.”

Most students appeared to have committed their lines to memory.

The time spent studying the Civil War is in preparation for a field trip next month to Washington, D.C., and Gettysburg National Cemetery in Pennsylvania.

Later in the evening, after more Civil War stories were told outside the school, a replica cannon was fired.

On Friday evening, about 250 of the school’s 335 eighth-graders dressed as ladies and gentlemen of the era for the 21st annual Blue and Gray Ball. Soldiers and their dates danced the waltz, and the ladies danced the Virginia Reel.

Former Lee Burneson teacher Jon Thompson, who launched the Civil War ball, reminded students that many who died in the conflict were not much older than they are. “This was a war fought by young people,” he said.

New this year was a play Behrendt wrote entitled “Civil Encounters.” In the story, three solders from each side meet at a river crossing to trade supplies as well as ideologies.

Behrendt recognized the daughters of the late Nancy Baker, whose Enchanted Evenings clothing store for many years supplied Lee Burneson students with the costumes and dresses they wore to the ball.

 

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