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York Catholic’s Annual Civil War Reenactment

I was invited to speak to the 7th and 8th grade students at York Catholic’s annual Civil War Reenactment Weekend, which has been a staple for more than a decade and a half. Students study history in a very creative way – becoming Civil War reenactors for a weekend. Trained and taught by living historians and adult reenactors (some of whom are school teachers themselves from other districts), the students are immersed for two days into a small glimpse of what military life in the 1860s may have been like. It’s a very effective teaching method, one that surely brings more interest than the average lecture from a teacher reciting boring dates, people, and events. Bringing history to life in this creative fashion most certainly is a better way to educate, and I commend the good folks at York Catholic for supporting and sustaining this methodology for so long.

The students are divided into two armies – blue and gray, and wear shirts of appropriate color, along with replica kepis. They are subdivided into companies, complete with officers and non-coms, each hosted by a reeenactor who helps instruct the students in tactics, military drill, camp life, and a little military history. The highlight of the weekend is the sham battle, a reenactment this year of the Confederate triumph at Chancellorsville, complete with the crushing of the Union XI Corps by Stonewall Jackson’s flanking movement.
Massive rains washed out the planned Saturday evening campout and interactive presentations by the reenactors, but the event was moved indoors to the auditorium following the evening meal. The program began with a Q&A session hosted by one of the reenactors, who patiently answered a dizzying array of questions, many of which proved the weekend event has struck a chord in the students’ consciousness. Another reenactor, a middle school teacher from West Chester, then told ghost stories that held many of the students spellbound for half an hour. Skirting the issue whether or not he believed in ghosts himself, the speaker, a Gettysburg College alumni, recited some of the more common stories involving the school and its buildings. He left the kids wanting more.
I took the opportunity to tell a few stories (not of the ghost variety LOL) from the local York area, focusing on the occupation of York by the Confederate army using anecdotes from my Human Interest Stories of the Gettysburg Campaign series of books, including a couple from the manuscript for Volume 3 (currently about half completed).
All in all, despite the torrential rainstorm that washed out the encampment and forced the reenactors and students indoors, the event was a success.
Kudos to all those involved in planning, executing supporting, and leading this worthwhile event, and I encourage all other school officials in York County to consider similar programs if you are not already doing so.