|The Battle of Fort Donelson, Feb 12-16, 1862
|These were huge cannons that were used to stop Union ships at Fort Donelson
1) Learn more about the history first of all. I found out my great, great, great grandpa fought
for the Union army. I learned all about the Generals, drummer boys like Johnny Clem, the difference between the Confederate
Flag and the Confederate Battle Flag, why these men gave their lives for their cause, how brothers really did fight against
brothers, and amazing battle stories from Gettysburg, Shiloh, Stones River, Franklin, Chickamauga and Chattanooga, Cold Harbor
and the thousands of other battles and skirmishes during the war. Here's some links to some of my favorite sites for
learning about the history:
The National Park Service has a great site to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War.
|Take care of our Hallowed Ground
|Bring a trash bag with you and pick-up the trash you see.
Civil War Trust has cool maps and stories.
2) Visit battlefields and help protect and care for them. Ask
you parents to take you to a Civil War Battlefield. Read about it online or in books before you go so you can picture in your
mind what the battle was like. When you get to a place like Shiloh in Tennessee you can picture in your mind 30,000 men battling
in places like "the hornet's nest" and see them caring for their wounds at the "bloody pond." Be sure
you ask the Rangers questions as they are there to help you - you can even earn a Junior Civil War Historian Badge like I
did. Bring along a plastic trash bag and some gloves. I was mad and surprised that so many people throw trash on the
fields and forests where these battles occurred. We picked up all the trash we saw an each battlefield. Since stupid people
will still throw trash on the Hallowed Ground we can be ready to pick it up - watch for poison ivy though. We can also
give money or ask our family and friends to give money to protect the battlefield.
If you EVER
see an artifact like a Minie' Ball or other item from the war on a battlefield, LEAVE it and report it to the rangers. They
will get it and mark where it was found as it can help us learn more about the battles.
the best books that helped me learn about battlefields is Civil War Battlefields, Discovering America's Hallowed
Ground, by Jeff Shaara. It is really good at telling you what to see and explaining the battle in ways that kids
can understand. The best web site to learn about Civil War Battlefields that are endangered is Civil War Trust.
Civil War Trust Web Site.
|Graves of six flag bearers killed at Shiloh.
|Shiloh National Cemetery reminds me of the sacrifice of these soldiers.
3) Honor our soldiers. You can visit our National Cemeteries and find grave sites for soldiers killed
in the Civil War. Most of the Battlefields have National Cemeteries next to them or in them where the Union soldiers were
buried. In Southern states many of the old local cemeteries have graves for Confederate soldiers. Confederate soldiers were
most often buried in mass graves and with the exception of Fort Scott National Cemetery in Kansas, there are no Confederate
troops buried in the National Cemeteries. I heard on our trip it is still illegal for them to be buried there, but not
sure that is true. There is a private Confederate Cemetery in Franklin, TN at Carnton Plantation with more than 600
soldiers, 87 of them are from my home state of Texas. There were also many Texans that fought for the Union. My dad and I
like to go to the cemeteries, walk quietly around and then play "Taps" before we leave. It's just our way to honor
the men who died.
At this site you can search by names to find soldiers. You can also find the National Cemeteries.
|Learning can be fun.
|At Chickamauga National Battlefield Visitor Center you can try on Civil War uniforms.
4) Make it fun. We're kids so we are suppose to have fun. When you visit the battlefield you can
pretend to shoot across the fields or be struck by a bullet or be in hand-to-hand fighting. Just remember, men died there
so we shouldn't scream and holler and tear things up. Don't climb on the cannons or on the trenches as they need to be preserved.
Don't climb on what is left of the ramparts at the Forts or go in places you are not suppose to. Let's show the adults we
can be smart, learn and protect and have fun.
There are also some really good books that are based on History
that are fun and entertaining - Rifles for Watie, by Harold Keith, Iron Thunder, The Battle Between the Monitor
& Merrimac by Avi, and The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara are some of my favorites - the last one
you will probably want to read with your dad. I also have a large collection of plastic Civil War soldiers and have fun creating
my own battles in the living room or backyard.
|Camp of Instruction
|Mike Ventura, right, taught me a great deal about Civil War life.
5) Live it. During spring break this year we visited Tennessee and went to Nashville,
Fort Donelson, Corinth (actually in Mississippi), Shiloh, Chickamauga (GA), Chattanooga & Lookout Mountain, Stones River
and Franklin to visit all the sites. Maybe the most fun was watching the "Camp of Instruction" held at Carnton Plantation
in Franklin. Almost 80 "living history" cavalry guys were there camping like the Confederate Cavalry did, drilling
with their horses and learning about life during the Civil War. It was so fun learning from them. They love answering questions
so ask them anything you can think of. You kind of have to be careful, because you ask them a question like "what is
that?" and they don't just tell you it is a "lantern" they talk to you for a long time about how it was used.
But if you really want to see what it was like this is really good to go to. I learned they really don't like to call
them re-enactments, because it is not about putting on a show it is about keeping history alive. I met Mike Ventura who has
been doing it for a long time. I learned more about life as a soldier from him on a Friday afternoon and Saturday morning
than I did reading books.
At the Camp of Instruction they gave me some hardtack. Hardtack
is really, really, really hard. Soldiers ate hardtack as part of their rations, though they probably broke their teeth it
is so hard. Your have to crack a piece off and put it in your mouth for a longtime until it becomes soft enough to eat.
The soldiers didn't eat nearly as much food as we do today. Most of them were about 5 foot 7 inches to 5 foot 10 inches
tall and weighed about 125-130 pounds. During the war they marched many many miles and ate very little so probably even weighed
less. The bullets soldiers used were very heavy as they were made of lead. Some where round and some were shaped like bullets
we have today. They were named after their co-inventor a French person, Claude Etienne Minie'. You can buy them at souvenir
shops near some of the parks, but if you ever find one at a park, leave it where you find it and tell the Rangers. It
is illegal to take anything you find in the park out of the park. Remember, we need to help protect the parks.
you visit a National Park Service, Civil War battlefield, be sure you complete the Junior Park Ranger program. It is fun and
you learn so much. Also, if you visit three parks and compete all three programs you will become a Junior Civil War
Historian. I was the first person to get that badge at Chickamauga and Chattanooga Battlefield.