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Students go back in time

Source:  Daily Gate City
By:  Megan Spees
April 30, 2012
Civil War history came to life before the eyes of area school children on Friday during Student Day at the 25th annual Civil War Re-enactment in Keokuk.

Twenty-six classes were brought in from Keokuk public and Catholic schools, Keokuk Christian Academy, Central Lee, Holy Trinity Catholic, Van Buren, West Burlington, Great River Christian School of Burlington, Danville, Winfield-Mount Union, Davis County Homeschool, Sts. Peter and Paul School of Nauvoo, Ill., Dallas City Elementary in Illinois, and Revere (Mo.) C-3. As in years past, Keokuk High School Student Council members were assigned to chaperone the classes as they traveled from one station to the next to learn about Civil War-era medicine, entertainment, weapons, family life and more.

New to Student Day this year was “General Impressions,” where students learned about the lives and careers of Confederate Army Gen. William T. Sherman and Union Army Gen. Ulysses S. Grant; a presentation about the life of Brevet Brigadier Gen. J.C. Parrott, who fought with the Iowa 7th Volunteers, given by his great-great-great-granddaughter Joy Kirkpatrick and her husband Ernie Paulson; and Professor Farquar and Polecat Annie’s Great American Medicine Show.

The rainy conditions so often associated with re-enactment weekend held off on Friday, and most students stayed comfortable in jackets and sweatshirts as temperatures lingered in the 60s.

“Thanks to the weather, it’s gone real smooth,” said Kirk Brandenberger, executive director of the Keokuk Area Convention and Tourism Bureau.

Convention and Tourism Board member Judy McDonald was one of the coordinators of Student Day. She said she’d talked to a teacher from George Washington Elementary, Keokuk, who noted that the event “was very interesting, and thought the students were interested.”

Luan Allen, a teacher at Great River Christian School, brings her fourth graders to Student Day each year. Third grade students are in the middle of a unit about the Civil War, so they tagged along this year, too.

“It’s a good experience for learning about history,” Allen said as she watched the children play with wooden toys presented by Nauvoo on the Road. “They gather a lot of information from this.”

After hearing President Abraham Lincoln speak at the Rand Park Pavilion about the impact of the Civil War on American history, several of Allen’s students asked him to give the Gettysburg Address. They stood transfixed as he delivered with great fervor the words that have been read and recited in millions of classrooms.

“There’s one statement I made that turned out to not be true,” he said after finishing the speech. “Do you know what it is?”

When they hesitated, he repeated the line, “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”

Nearby, first lady Mary Todd Lincoln spoke to students about the diverse, and often ignored, roles of women during the Civil War.

“When you study the Civil War, don’t overlook women,” she told a group from Keokuk Middle School.

Women (and often children) rolled up their sleeves and got to work on farms, in factories and in businesses, filling the jobs of 3 million men who were on the battlefield.

At least 250 women disguised themselves as men to join the fight. Most went undiscovered until they were wounded or killed in combat. Once they were found out, “they were sent home with a stern warning not to do it again,” Mary Todd Lincoln said.

When the Civil War began, most nurses were men. The common belief was that women were too delicate to care for wounded soldiers. While this held true for those who couldn’t stomach the sight of blood or gaping wounds, the “weaker sex” learned to deal with the unpleasant tasks of nursing as the war progressed. By the end of the war, 3,000 women were enlisted as nurses. Among them was Clara Barton, who became known as the “angel of the battlefield” and founder of the American Red Cross.

Of the 600,000 soldiers who died during the Civil War, about two-thirds lost their lives to disease and infection due to poor sanitary conditions and lack of immune resistance. Women formed sanitary commissions to inspect camps and hospitals. They advised military leaders and doctors to build latrines downstream and wash their hands between operations.

Commissions also held sanitary fairs to raise money for medical supplies and healthy foods, which were shipped to the camps.

At the helm of the abolitionist movement were women such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. Out of the campaign against slavery, the fight for women’s rights emerged. At the time, women not only were lower in status than men – they often were considered property. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were among those who pioneered the women’s rights movement.

Looking at the group gathered around the hem of her hoop skirt, Mary Todd Lincoln noted that all of the girls were wearing pants. Amelia Bloomer, who spoke out about the impracticality of skirts, can be credited with changing the way women are expected to dress.

“Ladies, in the 19th century you could have been arrested if you were found out in public like you are today,” Mary Todd Lincoln told the girls.

For those who wanted to discreetly exchange military secrets and information, women’s attire during the Civil War had its advantages. Most spies and smugglers were females who sewed pockets into the many layers of clothing they wore. Mary Todd Lincoln recalled that one woman braided a ribbon into her hair that had a secret message written on it.