Civil War presentation brings American history to life
MANSFIELD — With the 153rd anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address on Nov. 19, local historian Ron Remy wanted to show elementary school students what it meant to young people of the 19th century to serve in the Civil War.
The Gettysburg Address was delivered by Abraham Lincoln at the November 19, 1863, dedication of Soldier’s National Cemetery, a cemetery for Union soldiers killed at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War.
A collector of Civil War memorabilia and knowledgeable about the era, Remy and Larry Crane, a retired friend from Tioga, teamed up with Warren L. Miller Elementary School teacher Erin Route and North Penn- Mansfield high School library staff to conduct the interactive presentations Nov. 4 at the high school library.
The Civil War was fought over states’ rights to buy slaves and keep them as property, Remy said.
“The south thought it was OK to do that, and we in the north said no. Even today, six countries in Africa still practice slavery,” Remy said.
Remy started his demonstration by asking the fifth graders to take a piece of paper, which he handed out, and a pen, and write the number 16 on it, and then to fold the paper and put it in their shoes.
He then asked the students if they would be willing to serve in Mr. Lincoln’s army, to which all two dozen at the 1 p.m. demonstration raised their hands.
“The first thing you will be asked is if you are over 16,” Remy said, reminding them that the piece of paper in their shoes with the number 16 written on it, was how teenagers younger than 16 could get into the army without technically “fibbing” about their ages.
Women were not allowed to join the army as soldiers but they could serve as nurses, cooks, and other support staff, but some found ways around that rule by posing as boys.
“About 400 women became Civil War soldiers that we know of so far,” Remy said.
He then led them in the pledge to protect the United States
Constitution from enemies both foreign and domestic.
During the demonstration, Remy had four of the children, two boys and two girls, come up to the front to be the “color guard” and allowed them to put on jackets and caps worn by Union soldiers, including one that had the “Pennsylvania Bucktail” on it.
They were a bugler, a flag bearer, a piper and a drummer.
“These soldiers were put out in front to lead the troops into battle, and so they were often the first to fall,” he explained, adding that if that happened, another soldier would take up the fallen soldier’s duties to lead the troops on.
The caps worn by the troops also had special significance, Remy explained.
“If the cap worn by the soldier had crossed swords on it, it meant they were a member of the cavalry,” he said.
Oftentimes, the Union soldiers would be captured by southern Confederate soldiers and their belt buckles, which had a US insignia on them, would be turned upside down and worn that way so they read SN, representing Southern Nation, Remy explained.
Buglers would wake up the soldiers every day at 4 a.m. with Reveille and they would go to bed to Taps at night, he added.
Marching in step could be a challenge for some of the young farm boys who joined up, and so to keep track of their left and right feet, they would put hay in one shoe and straw in the other.
Soldiers ate dried beef “jerky” and hard tack, which was like saltine crackers eaten today, only “about two weeks old.”
Remy also taught the students about the “Underground Railroad” route taken by runaway slaves from the South as they traversed through Tioga County.
“There are two houses in Mansfield, both on North Main Street, that were part of the Underground Railroad,” Remy said.
“The slaves would follow Route 15 and take refuge in the houses on their way to New York and on to Canada to be safe,” he added.