Students bring civil war lessons to life at Walla Walla school

Students wrapping up a unit on the Civil War re-enacted the Battle of Gettysburg, with a few modern twists.

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Hair flies as Garrison Middle School eighth grader Amber Hubsky laughs her way in to battle with the rest of her class as they reenact the North versus the South for the Battle of Gettysburg as part of teacher Beth Clearman's class. Clearman said she enjoyed watching the eighth graders run around with play swords like they were six-years-old again. Tuesday, April 12, 2011

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Garrison Middle School eighth grade students Ariel Bermudez (left) and Leo Alejandre (right) present information on the Battle of Gettysburg for their class after a sword fight outside to reenact the battle. Students from teacher Beth Clearman's class studied the Civil War and the students planned a mock battle. Tuesday, April 12, 2011

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Garrison Middle School teacher Beth Clearman plays dead in the grass as her eighth grade students continue to battle with light sabers and plastic, wood and Nerf swords while reenacting the Battle of Gettysburg Tuesday morning. Tuesday, April 12, 2011

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Weilding a wooden sword with his Confederate flag wrist band, a Garrison Middle School eighth grader plays the part of a Confederate soldier during teacher Beth Clearman's reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg Tuesday morning. Tuesday, April 12, 2011

WALLA WALLA -- The Battle of Gettysburg was brought to life -- with toy swords and lightsabers -- on the Garrison Middle School field Tuesday.

The battle marked the completion of a unit on the Civil War in Beth Clearman's eighth-grade social studies class. By chance, the re-enactment coincided with the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.

The students, working in different groups, began their unit by researching and then presenting different aspects of the Civil War. One group studied soldier's attire and ranks and the types of guns used during the war.

Another group designed a model of one of the lesser known battles using toy army men, and creating a field with a bridge and river on a large board.

"They really studied the battle," Clearman said. "It was the Battle of the Wilderness. It was a secondary battle, not as well known."

Clearman said those students finished their design ahead of time, and asked to coordinate the re-enactment at the end of the lessons.

Clearman said the students prepared the details of the battle simulation, and then the class worked together to set guidelines.

A battle was chosen and studied, and toy swords were brought in as weapons. The students agreed to be restrained with their hits, and toy guns of any kind were excluded.

That left foam and wooden swords and plastic lightsabers -- the sword-like weapons from the Star Wars movies -- for the fight.

Finally, the students would reenact the Battle of Gettysburg at 9:40 a.m. on Tuesday. But the class didn't know as they planned that April 12 marked the 150th anniversary of the battle at Fort Sumter.

On Tuesday, the students walked across the Garrison field toward the bridge that connects the school with Jefferson Park. The southern army waited on one side to prepare its attack.

With an angry battle cry from the South and a charge across the bridge, the battle began. The northern army responded, running with equal energy (and giggles) into the fight.

History dictates the North would win, but the southern side didn't give up without a good fight.

"Can we take prisoners?" Anne Baker called out near the end of the battle.

Some shattered toy sword pieces had to be retrieved from the field before the students headed back to class to discuss the battle.

The students also learned that the Battle of Gettysburg is believed to have started over something less complicated than slavery.

"It was shoes," said Bernardo Saucedo, who served along with Micheal Peters as a leader of the southern army. Saucedo explained that Confederate soldiers were often without supplies, including shoes.

Confederate soldiers apparently moved into Gettysburg to search for supplies, among them much-needed shoes. A chance meeting with Union troops would result in the battle that ended with a catastrophic southern loss.

All the students in the class participated, and appeared to enjoy themselves in the battle while taking it seriously. In preparation, the two armies created paper arm bands -- red with the Confederate flag for the South, blue with the U.S. flag for the North -- to denote their side.

"It was pretty fun," said Wyatt Taylor, who was part of the group that coordinated the reenacted. "I didn't know how well it was going to go, or how many were going to do it."

Clearman said she was impressed with the students' planning, and welcomed the chance for them to play-battle. As eighth-graders, she said, students are often forced into acting like adults too soon.

"Getting to have fun and run around and act like 6-year-olds is good for them," Clearman said.

Maria P. Gonzalez can be reached at mariagonzalez@wwub.com or 526-8317.

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