Believing is seeing, and seeing is realizing. Como-Pickton’s Advanced Academics class studied up before departing last weekend for a living history lesson in Mississippi, part of their lessons on the Civil War. Each came home with a better appreciation of the conditions during that era as well as the architectural, engineering, geographic and scientific developments of the time in Mississippi. Each had at least one favorite part, some several.
“It brings [their lessons] to life, helps them remember and learn from it,” said Robert Snyder, Como-Pickton sixth through eighth grade history teacher and also one of the teachers of the Advanced Academics class which receives 30 minutes of enrichment activities and lessons daily. “I think it helped them gain appreciation of the importance of the Mississippi River at that time, understand the slave culture at the time, and a general appreciation of science, architecture, a better appreciation for history.”
“Enrichment period is 30 minutes. We wanted to choose something relevant to us, there’s so much of that with the Civil War, plus it’s the sesquicentennial,” said CP Librarian Marilyn Powers, who also teaches Advance Academics and coordinated the May 2-5 field trip to Mississippi.
To prepare for the trip, students watched Ken Burns’ Civil War series, then focused on emerging technology such as photography as well as music, flags, locations and significances. Each was assigned a different “Know Before You Go” topic, which they had to give a presentation on. The purpose was to give the students a good foundation so they knew enough about where they’d be to build on that knowledge during the trip. They utilized band teacher Jeremy Wofford as a resource.
“Mr. Jeremy Wofford was an excellent resource for students. He has an incredible background. He was a Civil War re-enactor. Mr. Wofford teaches band. His mother was a history teacher for years. He really helped make it come alive,” Snyder noted.
In order to maximize the time they’d have, Powers contacted visitor bureaus and national parks, and timed their trip just right — the weekend 125 Civil War re-enactors dressed as Union and Confederate soldiers to present a “living history” at Vicksburg National Military Park.
“We were very fortunate at the battlefield at the time. Vicksburg’s living history, 125 re-enactors came from all over. They stayed in character and answered as if they were a soldier,” said Powers.
She also filed a lot of paperwork identifying them as an educational organization, which allowed them entry at some places at no charge, cutting the cost for students for food and admission down to $200 each.
Each of the sixth through 12th grade students who made the four-day Mississippi trip had a different favorite memory or part of the tour that really impressed them, most for different reasons, a few were hard pressed to pick a favorite they were so impressed by the sites in Natchez and Vicksburg.
The beauty and construction of the historic buildings, science on the battlefield and in homes, the sheer power of the mighty Mississippi River and it’s role during the Civil War, a restored ironclad ship which was sunk in the River and spine-tingling tales of Civil War era personalities local to Natchez and Vicksburg were among the group favorites. A few were taken in more by the aesthetics — foods and scent of flowers. Most students’ reasons for their picks fit nicely with the science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM C-P instructors based their enrichment projects and trip on.
One student, who originally was not taken with the idea of making the trip, indicated she was sure glad she changed her mind.
“I didn’t want to go at first, but decided on the adventurousness of it,” said eighth grader Autumn Bennett, admitting she was captivated by geography and beauty of Mississippi. “I liked Natchez for the the geography, how it looked in the morning with the fog over the river, the bridge, and the battleground in Vicksburg.”
Seventh grader Jorge Solis indicated on the first day of the trip as the bus crossed into the Louisiana with its welcome sign he began to wonder if the trip would be worth the effort. But, as they cross from Louisiana into Mississippi Thursday evening, he soon became lost in Natchez, Miss., history.
“There’s a lot of history. I did not expect that much. The history was amazing,” Solis said.
“The trip took forever to get there going across Louisiana to Mississippi, but then whoa! There’s a huge river. We went to the Natchez Grand to drop off our stuff, then walked along the river, toured old houses, architecture,” said McElyea, who was impressed “they celebrate Mardi Gras in Mississippi, or at least they do in Natchez, Mississippi. ... On the way back from Vicksburg, we made a stop, then finally saw the welcome to Texas sign, and then I thought [the trip] didn’t last long. We had good times. ... It was worth it.”
Powers said that’s one big reason they chose Mississippi for their class field trip — which the school board and administrators approved and even funded transportation and lodging for.
“It gave kids a chance to see us outside of school atmosphere, and to see why we’re excited about history,” Powers said.
Both students and staff said the local guides — Bea Burns in Natchez and Morgan Gates for the battlefield in Military Park in Vicksburg — made all the difference.
“You need people from there, who can tell the history as a story,” Snyder said.
“I thought it was cool how the guides knew a lot about it. They were really into it — not bothered or badgered with questions, helpful,” said senior Eduardo Grimaldi.
Sophomore Lizbeth Mares enjoyed the jasmine and stories told at Natchez City Cemetery.
“It’s numerous generals’ burial places. One tree looked like had it a person in it, a live fighter in it. A magnolia looked like sitting in a shroud,” Mares said, adding that the cool drizzly weather that rolled in was perfect atmosphere for the “haunted tour.”
Seventh grader Shawn Murray noticed the grave markers denoting military service.
“Generals are marked by a red cross. For Confederate soldiers all four sides are equal,” Murray explained.
Several students also remarked on one grave in particular: that of a 7-year-old girl who died from yellow fever. A glass wall with 6 feet of steps leading down was constructed to allow the mother to climb down and read to the little girl on stormy nights as she was afraid of the weather.
The sad story of the girl made eighth grader Rusty Bult aware of the impact yellow fever had.
“The ghost stories, I got chills. The [Natchez City] Cemetery was cool,” Bult added.
“I liked the haunted tour in the dark and didn’t want to get touched by them,” said sixth grader Lyndee Mitchell.
Murray said while he didn’t have an actual favorite, he did find the military park and river very interesting. He admitted he’d visited Vicksburg when he was 8, but was entranced by the local stories.
“The stories were pretty interesting, learning what happened what goes on, things like that. Tour guide Morgan Gates took us through the battlefield and, a guide told us ghost stories. The Vicksburg guide is a social studies teacher in Vicksburg,” Murray said.
Eighth grader Kailee Williams recommends “anybody to try to go to Vicksburg and Natchez. It’s a good educational tour, lots of family things, a good overall experience. I’d been two times before. This time was a better experience. Last time, we drove around on our own, no tour guide.”
The class’ visits to Vicksburg National Military Park, Emerald Mound (second largest Native American mound in the U.S.), the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians and Port Gibson, and the bluffs and River from Natchez gave students a deeper appreciation for the challenges the landscape presented for soldiers and residents during the Civil War and before.
“I enjoyed seeing artifacts and nature trail [Mount Locust Inn and history of the Natchez Trace by National Park Service]. On the Trace there was a lot of poison ivy, graves, we saw how they made bricks,” said senior Jose Guerrero.
“I liked when we went through the National Military Park [in Vicksburg, Miss.]. I liked Mississippi, there are a lot of hills. I’m not used to that. I’m used to one and that’s it. It was a lot of fun seeing the river, the town (of Natchez) and stories on the ghost tour, history,” said seventh grader Breanna Bowen.
“We really got to see what they did during the time and how they used the land. We learned more about it. ... living conditions, food was not cool, I learned a lot I didn’t know. They camped in the same conditions, tents and hard tack” which the students got to actually see to fully appreciate,” said seventh grader Hannah Anderson.
“I thought the Mississippi was BIG, powerful and beautiful, and a big turning point in the Civil War. Gettysburg was going on at the same time,” said sixth grader Shad Griner.
O’Bryan and several other students really enjoyed touring the USS Cairo, a restored ironclad ship, sunk in the war, then recovered and restored.
“Grant crossed the Mississippi River using boats to ferry across, starting on the Louisiana side. The Navy was involved. It had all their supplies, if it got by and across to come from the South then west. To the south to Jackson, and west to the fort, gun boats made by the bluff to ferry men and mules,” O’Bryan explained.
“My favorite part was Vicksburg battlefield. No one lived in Camp. The sharpshooters would go down into trenches. It was cool seeing how they fought in their day,” Bult said.
“I liked Vicksburg best. I liked the re-enactors. They used weapons and we saw how the used the land to their advantage,” said Mitchell.
“The first waterproof blankets were issued to the Union. If conditions killed the Union, the Confederates would take their gun and blanket. The canteens the Confederates and Union used were different,” freshman Blayke Pegues pointed out.
Bennett was struck by the strategy soldiers used to protect themselves from the enemy. She noted how one side dug cave under the ground to elude opposing forces. Some trenches were “like a bomb shelter, holes in the side of the hill.”
“At Vicksburg, they fought in dens, there was a wall they fought behind. Natchez has all these old buildings. In Natchez, one shot was fired and they surrendered,” Griner said.
Sixth grader Brian Paine said the sheer force behind the mortars and cannons impressed him.
“I can see it now, sense the force behind it, the steel. Pick one up and it’s heavy. It’d be terrifying to see it fly by right there at your face. There was a mortar shell in the ground at one of the houses. It was like mortar was a bomb cannon. We saw in Vicksburg old canons, naval, bigger than a table — about 15,000 pounds, they had on USS Cairo,” Paine said.
The fact that he found information about General Sam Bell Maxey, for whom the Camp Maxey Texas Army National Guard (TXARNG) training facility eight miles north of Paris, fighting at Vicksburg, was especially notable for senior Jose Guerrero.
“At Vicksburg, what I enjoyed most was the Texas regiment. I’m a Texas National Guard soldier, general’s name found on a campsite. Camp Maxey is where he fought. Later on, I’d like to go back and see it. I helped with a special presentation on battle flags, music, photography of the time. I got to learn more than books and online. We earned our money to go,” Guerrero said.
“I loved seeing the Texas Memorial. It was inscribed. Texans were call on when they were in tough spots. They’d stand their ground and advance position. Texans were put in tough situations,” said Blayke Pegues.
“Texans fought the bloodiest battles, where the Union tried to breech the fort,” pointed out Williams, who adds she even “found a relative of ours from the past. ...Texas was a big part of it.”
Sophomore Bridget Nabors was impressed with how many men from Illinois fought in the Civil War, as attested by the monument constructed in their honor in 1906; 35,325 Illinois soldiers participated in the Vicksburg campaign.
The Illinois Memorial modeled after the Roman Pantheon was dedication 1906. It has 47 steps leading up to the entrance, one for each day of the siege of Vicksburg. Inside 60 tablets list the 36,000 plus Illinois soldiers who participated in the Vicksburg campaign.
Seventh grader Matthew Pegues liked the science of the trip from the way the Longwood Plantation was built, the frame work advancement in technology, to the brick-making and way weapons were improved, use of punkawallah fans in plantations to help cool off and make the flies go away.
“They made the gun spin to make velocity on bullet higher. The way it’s loaded from end of the gun made bullet smaller, to fit in the grooves,” Matthew Pegues said, the “torpedoes” that sunk an the ironclad battle ship, the USS Cairo, which has been recovers.
Murray enjoyed seeing “stuff from back then” including Cannon balls, muskets and bayonets” displayed inside theOld Court House Museum in Vicksburg.
“Vicksburg courthouse is the oldest and tallest building there. It was the highest point of the city before they added to it,” pointed out senior Joey Satterfield, who described the tip as the “overall best experience I’ve ever had, and added he’d be glad to go with next year’s class as a chaperon if they go back to Mississippi.
Satterfield said the buildings and plantations were especially remarkable for him. He enjoyed Melrose Plantation most, but noted how
Williams was struck by how separated different classes of people were. Seeing the slave quarters at Melrose Plantation, and the separate living quarters.
The slave quarters at one plantation “had the best conditions” a guide told the students.
“To us they looked very bad, primitive,” Solis said.
Several students commented on the architecture of the time, particularly in old houses such as Longwood Plantation, a multi-story octagonal Oriental Revival style plantation that encompassed 30,000 square feet, has a large Byzantine styled dome, and 32 room — although only nine were ever completed.
“There was no wood, except one door frame. It was all brick,” Bennett said.
Paine enjoyed the carriage house, seeing how carriages were constructed, looms and other tools of the time.
Bennett was fascinated to see the tools that were “used to actually make the house. The physical look — octagonal.”
“The houses [Longwood Plantation and Melrose Plantation in Natchez, Miss.,] were really beautiful,” Grimaldi said. “The rooms were bigger than my house.”
Sights aren’t the only thing Grimaldi will remember from the trip. The flavor made a big impression too.
“I really liked the food we had, pork chops, chicken, brisket, steak — Southern-style.”
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