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Kids learn more than Civil War history

Jan. 13, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

The Civil War destruction that occurred in the small community of Guyandotte during November of 1861, was without a doubt a most horrific experience for those who lived there at the time. That cold autumn night would have certainly been engulfed with a crimson colored sky, as over half the town was plundered and burned to the ground by union troops.

The Civil War battle of Guyandotte was once again relived during the first few days of last November by hundreds of Civil War enthusiasts. Actors and actresses alike, covered in period perfect dress and battle uniforms return annually to relive those days when brothers fought against brother. It's a time when history comes alive through the sounds, sights, and smell of cannon fire, muzzle loading rifles, horses, rows of white colored Civil War tents, and camp fires.

The annual re-enactment of the 1861 Civil War battle does not totally evolve around the death and destruction within the town of Guyandotte.

While there is always carnage associated with war, there is also another side that spectators come to observe.

Many listen and hear the sounds of mountain music, see the sale of Civil War uniforms, and period artifacts. Many look, observe, and learn as they walk through the various camps.

There was also a group of area kids who came to participate, to be a part of it all, to learn, grow, and experience the life of a young soldier from Civil War days. The Civil War was known to involve children at a early age. They performed such duties as carrying the wounded on stretchers, assisting surgeons, filling canteens with water, relaying commands, and a few even picked up rifles and engaged the enemy.

That's what a group of area kids came to Guyandotte's Civil War days to do. Roughly between the ages of 11 and 16, they volunteer to relive a significant part of history while experiencing firsthand the living conditions of a foot soldier from the Civil War. Under the guidance of Jeffrey Clagg, and Mike Sheets; these kids are involved to a far greater depth than simply sitting around an early morning camp fire trying to keep warm.

"We conduct weekly classes for these young men after school," said Clagg. "Naturally we cover history, but we also teach respect, discipline, responsibility, and teamwork. These meetings also include group discussions on past events, a critique session, questions and answers, practical hands on reenactment, and discussion of past trips and future plans. We do a lot more with these young men than just travel to Civil War enactment sights."

And what a busy group this young "band of brothers" have become. This past September the group, called the Western Virginia Military Academy, participated in the Civil War re-enactment of Pleasant Hill, Ky. Last October, they traveled to Perryville, Ky., to take part in one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. They were involved with the recent Civil War battle in Hurricane, and have tentative plans to participate in next year's re-enactment at Gettysburg.

"This group provides structure for these kids," said Clagg. "We have boys from all social classes within this group, but when they're with us, they get treated with the respect they earn. More than teaching history, we feel we are preparing them for life. When they enter high school, they can become a part of the Junior ROTC Program with little effort. I have received many calls from parents with children in our group. They all provide pretty much the same feedback, that they see positive changes in their children since belonging. Those types of remarks tell us that we are doing the right thing. "

Speaking with these young boys, their answers varied as to why they belong to this energetic group, but as diversified as their answers were, they were all positive in nature.

"I love camping out," said 13 year-old Corbin Lovejoy. "It's a great way to learn, and have fun being in the outdoors."

"It's really a great experience," said 12 year-old Jacob Lavender. "Learning about the Civil War while actually being a part of it is really neat."

"It's the only time I get to stay up late," said 11 year-old Dustin Adkins. "It's also really cool being a part of all this."

This young group of men pretty much do what's needed to help with the war effort. Everything from crowd control, to actual participation in the scheme of things. And all the while, they are learning something far greater about life.

Something else was learned along the way: The taste of fried potatoes, onions and summer sausage being cooked on an open fire in an iron skillet is a very delicious treat.

If you have children who might be interested in joining this young group, call Clagg at 304-762-2769 or Sheets at 304-525-5065.

Both Clagg and Sheets are most appreciative of the help they received from Hurricane native Eugene Bell, and the many parents who have so generously given of their time and talents.

Clyde Beal is an area freelance writer looking for seniors who are still working as a necessity. Write him at archie350@frontier.com.