Learning About Life During the Civil War
by Barbara Lippincott
With the strains of such famous Civil War songs as, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” and “John Brown’s Body” resounding in their ears from the “Merry Mischief” concert, 100 Marcus Whitman fifth graders walked to the grounds of the Town of Gorham Historical Society on May 24.
They were greeted by women dressed in hoop skirts and matching bonnets, workmen clad in white billowing shirts, Union soldiers donning cappies and black vests, and even gray-clothed barefoot Confederate soldiers. The second annual “Life During the Civil War Day” had begun and more than thirty volunteers were helping history to come alive for the students.
“I can’t hear you,” “Louder,” “Yes, Sir,” “No, Sir,” and “Forward,” were but a few of the commands Drill Sgt. Tom Bowers of Fairport taught the children, as he put them through their paces. The field by the Historical Society was transformed into his School of Soldiering.
Numerous pieces of Civil War era women’s clothing hung from the Historical Society’s walls as groups of girls learned about the multiple layers of clothing worn by women of the era. Meanwhile, the boys learned about farming implements and felt the push and pull of a saw. These were but two of the six sessions all children attended. Others included guessing what Civil War gadgets were used for and who might have used them. Kids also spun whirligigs, tossed hoops in a game of Graces, twisted wrists with a Jacob’s Ladder and tried to land the ball in the cup while playing Civil War era games. Listening to Dr. Bell from Penn Yan, the children learned about Civil War medicine. As one student put it, “If I lived back then, I probably would be missing an arm and a leg.” A Union soldier’s mess kit, bullets and a uniform were but a few things a Union soldier re-enactor shared.
As the morning drew to a close, the aroma of beef stew and Johnny cakes permeated the grounds. As all participants ate their lunch (prepared by the Marcus Whitman cafeteria), the Historical Society’s curator set the solemn tone for the afternoon’s activities. The fifth graders were reminded of the realities of war as they lined up behind a horse drawn wagon carrying the coffin of Charles Freshour, a Gorham native killed in battle. Slowly and quietly the children and volunteers (acting as the soldiers’ families) walked to nearby Pioneer Cemetery. A brief funeral service was held and Charles’ parents spoke of their loss. The families of two other native sons, Asa Mott and Martin Swart, each spoke of the loss of their son.
On their way out of the cemetery, the children met a wounded soldier whose brother was killed at the Battle of Gettysburg. He spoke of the hours he and his brother had spent swimming in nearby Flint Creek and how they never would be able to do it again. Taps was played as the day drew to a close. The quietness stayed with the children as they walked back to school. You could feel them thinking. Perhaps one of them will find an alternative to war.
To learn more about the Town of Gorham Historical Society and its programming, contact Curator Sharon Cornelius at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit
President Dennis Hogan ringing the bell to keep us on schedule.
Steve Mumby plays the part of injured soldier Jonathan Creed.
Paul and Virginia Curtis play the parents of Charles Freshour.
School of Soldiering