Monday, April 23, 2012

Re-enactments bring history to life

South Carolina has a colorful history, and I'm glad to see that re-enactments are being used to help teach our history to children in public schools, as in the case of the Battle of Anderson, as reported by the Anderson Independent-Mail.

Early Friday morning, the tents were set up and the camp fires were burning. The large bronze rifle was primed to fire, and the cell phones were all tucked away on the bus.

Friday was education day at the Honea Path base for this year’s Battle of Anderson re-enactment. Scores of elementary and middle school students showed up to see what life was like during the Civil War.

From two-man tents, the kind that often slept three or four soldiers, to elaborate walled tents where officers slept with all the comforts of home, the battlefield was readied to show students from all over the Upstate how soldiers and other citizens lived in the 1800s.

According to historians, the Battle of Anderson was fought in May 1865, three weeks after the end of the Civil War. Historians say a group of students from The Citadel happened upon a small group of Union soldiers. The skirmish, said to be the last to take place east of the Mississippi, resulted in no Confederate injuries and few Union casualties. Where the battle happened is debated among historians, but most agree that it was in Anderson County.

This year, on a parcel of land on S.C. 20 in Honea Path, nearly 150 years later, more than 100 people will gather to participate in a re-enactment of the battle.

Part of the goal of the event this weekend, organizers said, is to bring history to life for those who attend.

“Who won the war? The North. So the North got to write the history books,” said Berlin Owen, a re-enactor from Rosman, N.C. “This is our chance to teach children our side of the story.”

Students from Wright Elementary School in Honea Path-based Anderson School District 2, Iva Elementary in Iva-based Anderson School District 3, Varennes School of Communications and Technology in Anderson School District 5, and several home-schooling groups, were on hand Friday to see how soldiers lived, fought and died. Groups of students moved from station to station, listening to presenters talk about secession, life in camp, Civil War-era weapons, fighting on horseback and other aspects of life at the time of the Civil War.

“I liked the tents,” said Ellison Pruitt, 10, from Wright Elementary. “I think it would have been really hard to sleep in one like that. And it would have been really hard to live back then because it would be harder to get food.”

Owen said most people don’t know what a soldier’s life was like — that they had to scrounge for their own food; that more died from disease and exposure than being shot; and that they fought because they felt their homes were being invaded.

Erica Shoff, a fourth-grade teacher at Wright Elementary, said being able to see and smell and touch the artifacts brought by the re-enactors made history more real to the students. As part of South Carolina state educational standards, students learn about South Carolina history in third grade, the Civil War in fourth grade and reconstruction in fifth grade.

“It really brings it home for them,” Shoff said of the education day. “It really helps them connect with the people who lived it.”

I wonder if organizers are planning for a re-enactment of the Chiquola Mill Massacre of September 1934? That, too, would be a fine event to use in the teaching of our state's history to children.

In fact, because it's much more recent that the Battle of Anderson, it might make for fascinating discussion before and after the re-enactment, to learn if any children had relatives working in the Chiquola Mill during that period; or had relatives among the 100 "special deputies" appointed by the mayor and mill manager, Frank Beacham, on the morning of September 7; or had relatives among the seven who were shot and killed by those "special deputies" from the mill windows during that morning's strike.

The old mill is still standing, but it's not in good repair, so it's likely not a good place to tour. Still, children could stand on the street and observe the windows from which the shooters killed the striking workers.

And they could gather for lunch at the little park in Honea Path where a memorial was finally created 15 or so years ago.

There's nothing like a re-enactment to make history come to life for our children.

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