Students get a taste of Civil War encampments

Published 1:34 pm Tuesday, July 13, 2010

With the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War coming in 2011, students from Louisiana and Mississippi got a three-day drill on what camp life was like for the average soldier.

The annual Civil War Adventure Camp, held recently at historic Jefferson College near Natchez, brought together 8-12-year-old boys and girls for interaction with history buffs and others.

The creation of H. Clark Burkett, a historian with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the camp didn’t focus on the political and social issues that spawned the war or have continued since it ended in 1865.

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However, it did give the students a sense of the rigors of daily life for Union and Confederate troops who fought in the conflict.

The 24 students were organized as the Jefferson College Avengers, under the command of the camp commandant, Lt. Col. Chip Landry, at the historic landmark, a former military school near Natchez.

They formed two companies, shouldered their “rifle” — wooden weapons painted black — and at the command from squad leaders, marched in formation along the grounds.

During the adventure camp, participants experienced the life of infantry, cavalry and artillery soldiers. Re-enactors — Civil War history buffs clad in Union and Confederate uniforms — worked with the students.

Louisiana and Mississippi were the sites of key battles during the war, including the Union assault on New Orleans in 1862 that cut a Confederate outlet to the sea and the 1863 Battle of Vicksburg. Mississippi still uses a form of the Confederate battle flag in its state flag.

How soldiers on both sides lived day to day was the key focus.

Burkett prepared a form of sow belly and hard tack for the children to snack on during the first day’s mid-session break, enjoying the many facial reactions to this basic meal for the average soldier.

While most of the boys preferred the hard tack, essentially a hardened tasteless cracker, some of the girls seemed to like the salty pork.

“I like trying the foods,” said Kaleb Crum, 10, of Wooodville, Miss., after chowing down the snack. “I also liked learning about how the soldiers made stuff, like corn coffee.”

Drill movements with and without arms, war games, firing muzzle-loading, black powder rifles also keep the campers attention.

The re-enactors also provided a cavalry demonstration and artillery instruction.

On the camp’s final day, each student received an infantryman’s cap and paraded before their parents.

Thomas Perry, 12, of Crosby, Miss., has been to similar camps.

“I enjoy coming up here,” he said, while packing up his “rucksack,” a lightweight bag each camper receives.

“I like learning about history here, but I don’t like it in school.”