Education

Ready, misfire! It's all in a day of fun at Bennett Place.

Ready, aim, misfire! Bennett Place 'Civil War School Days'

Hundreds of students learned about cannons and the life of soldiers during Bennett Place State Historic Site during "Civil War School Days" in Durham, NC. Bennett Place is the site of the largest surrender of Confederate troops, ending the war.
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Hundreds of students learned about cannons and the life of soldiers during Bennett Place State Historic Site during "Civil War School Days" in Durham, NC. Bennett Place is the site of the largest surrender of Confederate troops, ending the war.

The cannon didn't cooperate on the first try during Bennett Place's "Civil War Schools Days."

But after a minute-long wait to make sure there were no hot embers to accidentally set off an explosion, followed by a new primer, the cannon crew was ready to give it another shot.

And this time — as 100 or more students, teachers and chaperones covered their ears and yelled "Fire!" — the cannon's load exploded with enough force to rock the fifth-graders all the way down to their sneakers.

And for some adults, the big boom produced a child-like wonderment that led one to remark, "No matter how many times I see this, it never gets old."

Bennett Place State Historic Site is where Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston surrendered 89,270 troops from the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida to Union Gen. William T. Sherman on April 26, 1865 to mark the last day of the Civil War.

The Annual Civil War Schools Days program was created four years ago to give students from public and private schools and those who are home-schooled a chance to visit and learn more about the military and civilian aspects of the war from costumed historians.

Reenactors described how soldiers marched and drilled and sent messages using signal flags. They discussed the clothing of the period, medical care, food and weapons, including rifles, pistols and torpedoes, which students learned were any kind of explosive device not shot from a cannon.

"The Civil War is a defining moment in the nation's history," said Ryan Reed, assistant site manager. "For better or worse, it defines who we are as a nation. We try to bring out as many of the military and civilian aspects of the war as possible."

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Joe Slifer, 70, of Raleigh, demonstrates the Parrott Rifle, a Civil War artillery piece, to school children during the 4th Annual Civil War School Days program at Bennett Place in Durham, N.C. The four-day event drew hundreds of school children who learned about food, day-to-day living conditions, communications, weaponry and the day-to-day life of soldiers and civilians. Civil War reenactors provided realistic uniforms and campsites. The cannon firing ended the morning session with a bang. Chuck Liddy

Bailee Morris, a fifth-grader at Nathanael Greene Elementary School in Guilford County, was enjoying the nice, warm spring day with classmates, playing a game from the 1800s that called for catching wooden hoops on what looked like chop sticks.

"I have enjoyed mostly the talks about the guns and how back in the day they used their sidearms," Bailee said. "I have learned a lot about the Civil War and the South's surrender."

Social studies teacher, Alysia Hunter, said the class was studying the Civil War in preparation for state end-of-grade tests .

"I thought this would be a great things for the kids to come and do to get some hands-on experience and be able to visually see it rather than just read it from a bunch of different text," Hunter said.

In addition to the rifles, pistols and cannon, students, teachers and chaperones seemed to enjoy a signal corps station where they learned to send messages like the soldiers did during the war.

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Joe Slifer, 70, of Raleigh, ended the morning session of the 4th Annual Civil War School Days program at Bennett Place in Durham, N.C., with a bang. Chuck Liddy

Rory Marable, a fifth-grader at Resurrection Lutheran Christian School in Cary, said using flags to communicate was kind of like old-fashioned text messaging.

"It was so much fun to do, and I can't believe they actually sent long messages using that," Rory said.

Rory's teacher, Mackenzie Sottini said she is "thankful" to live in an area that has a monument she can use to help students learn about the Civil War.

"I've been teaching for over 15 years and what I have started to notice is that the further we get away from historical events like this, the less students know," Sottini said.

In addition, Sottini said many students are so well off financially that they have no idea what it's like to just get by each day.

"I love for my students to see what the bare minimum is, to see what it's like for a family of six to live in a small house, how hard it was to make soap, how hard it was to eat," she said.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645
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