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Centre Ridge Elem. Students Create Civil War Museum

July 18, 2002

Rachel Fox, 12, and Michelle Michael, 11, were both so impressed with what they learned about Elizabeth Cady Stanton that, when they got to dress up as a historic character, they both chose her.

"She fought for women's right to vote," said Rachel, a sixth-grader at Centre Ridge Elementary. "She wasn't as well-known as Susan B. Anthony, but she did as much work."

Before school ended in June, the two girls were among some 150 Centre Ridge sixth-graders (five classes) who culminated their five-week study of the Civil War by creating their own Civil War museum. It took a month to make, and displays were shown in several rooms in the sixth-grade pod.

Each section of the museum covered a specific topic: Slavery and the Underground Railroad; major battles and events from Fort Sumter to Gettysburg; daily life of solders; unsung heroes, major battles and events — Gettysburg to Appomattox; and Lincoln's assassination and Reconstruction.

They were subjects the children needed to know for the SOLs, and each student chose what he or she was interested in researching. Then they wrote out their projects and planned their displays. Some showed pictures and information on poster board; others made power-point presentations on the computer, some did skits and others, like Rachel and Michelle, dressed as historical characters and told their life stories to the museum visitors (other students, parents and teachers).

"I'm just so proud of what they did," said sixth-grade teacher Kathy Young. "And the students also saw a videotape about the Civil War, on our in-house TV, before touring the museum."

"It was fun dressing up and talking to people," said Rachel. She said the museum was a good idea because "We actually get to be a part of [the Civil War], instead of just reading about it from a book. It's hands-on history."

Michelle learned in her research that American women didn't have the right to vote until 1920. As for the museum, she said, "It was a lot funner than I thought [it would be] because Rachel helped. I told people that Stanton only had seven children — they usually had more then — and that she died at age 87."

Andy Vedeler, 12, liked doing the research and making a project for the museum because "it helps prepare you for doing that in high school." He was all decked out in a nifty, blue Union soldier's uniform — a Vermont enlisted man — that he and his grandma made together. "I hand-sewed my pants and jacket," he said. "It took about two weeks."

"I learned that, at the beginning of the war, some Union soldiers' uniforms were gray like the Confederates, and some were red," he continued. "A lot of soldiers from Louisiana and New York had red, black and white uniforms. [At first], only cavalry and Vermont enlisted men wore dark-blue uniforms. But toward the end, it became federal regulation that all the soldiers wore blue."

Michelle Kim, 13, Tammie Nguyen, 11 and Joo Eun Kim, 12, all dressed as Civil War nurses and researched medical care and medicine during that time. "There weren't that many good instruments for operations, so they used long, sharp knives to cut the skin," said Michelle.

She said medicine then was made from plants such as mustard, blackberry and May apple. "They didn't have any sleeping powders or gas — they just felt the pain," she said. As for the museum, she said it was "cool to talk to people and teach them."

Tammie learned that "when they did an amputation, the patient didn't get to go to sleep, and it really hurt." She thought the museum was a good idea because "it's helpful for people who didn't know about [the Civil War], and it gets them interested in it. My wish is to be a doctor when I grow up, so learning about this is really helping my future."

Joo Eun told visitors about famous nurse Clara Barton. "She made the Red Cross symbol and started the American Red Cross," she said. "And she was called the 'Angel of the Battlefield' because she took care of the soldiers there."

In those days, said Joo Eun, women couldn't be soldiers, so Barton decided that she could, at least, help them. Joo Eun enjoyed studying about Barton and learning new things, but said she was glad she didn't live back then: "It was hard without medicine — it's better now."

Portraying a conductor on the Underground was Valeria Reyes, 12. "It took the slaves to freedom, from south to north and eventually to Canada," she explained. "It started in 1850 and stopped when all the slaves were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation."

She said it was dangerous because, "if you got caught, the slave-owners would hit you, so that's why all the Underground Railroad operations were under cover of darkness." Still, Valeria said she'd have done it because "I think slavery is wrong and all people should be treated equal, no matter what color their skin is."

Also participating was third-grade teacher Marni Dudley; she and her husband are re-enactors with the 28th Virginia, Company D, and she dressed as a middle-class Southern lady, in a brown-print dress and black bonnet.

She stood by a table with reproductions of Civil War items: A haversack, lady's purse, photographs, books, Confederate money, letters from soldiers, camp utensils, hard tack (biscuits) and a copy of Harper's Weekly Journal of Civilization — a New York newspaper dated June 15, 1861.

Ryan Clubb and Jonathan Fajardo, both 12, together made a display of Civil War battleships; Ryan did the Confederate battleship, the Merrimac, and Jonathan did the Union battleship, the Monitor — which fought each other on March 9, 1862.

"The Merrimac was the first ironclad made in the U.S., and it was 3,200 tons," said Ryan. "The Monitor and other Union ships put a blockade around Norfolk so the Merrimac and other Confederate ships couldn't trade with Britain," added Jonathan. "The Monitor was smaller and weighed 776 tons; it was also an ironclad."

Ryan said the battle was inconclusive; the Monitor had to retreat into shallow water, and the Merrimac couldn't follow. But, said Jonathan, "After the battle, whenever the Monitor saw the Merrimac, it would run away."