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Living History - My Son Joined the Army!

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By Robin McDonald

My Son Joined the Army!
My 14-year-old son Michael recently joined the army.

Okay, not really. Sort of. Only in a sense. He joined the 11th Texas Cavalry and decided to fight in a Civil War battle reenactment at Liendo Plantation, an old plantation that has been renovated, located between Houston and Austin.

One of the things we recently discovered as a homeschool family is the fun of dressing up and reenacting events from history. This is a new hobby for us, but Michael, who still loves to play pretend, even as a teenager, catalyzed it. We're still learning the ropes, but it's great fun, and wonderful for hands-on learning, especially for those kinesthetic learners who have a difficult time with books. Michael is one of those types of learners, which is one reason we recently withdrew him from public school and started homeschooling him.

Historical reenactors create what they call "impressions" to give viewers a first-hand look at what life might look like in the era they represent. Creating an impression also gives Michael a chance to live out history as a persona of someone else, in this case a Union soldier.

A month or so ago, we found out about the reenactment, not far from our farm on the outskirts of Houston. Michael was all ears and was hooked! He not only loves history, he loves drama ... and most of all, he loves horses.

Did I forget to mention our neighbor J.R. (not of Dallas fame) is in the 11th Texas, and he storms up and down our street, charging invisible intruders, astride his grey horse Cowboy, while decked out in the Union colors, carrying a gun and saber? Well, thanks to our neighbor and his neighing horse, Michael was hooked a long time ago, and finally had his chance to sign up.

On Friday, November 22, 2002, we attended a school field trip day at Liendo Plantation, attending with our homeschool group, Tomball Christian Homeschoolers. Michael ended up at the recruiting table, signing up to be an unmounted cavalry footsoldier. As I stood there at Chaplain Randy Scallan's table, watching him sign up, I felt like Mel Gibson's character must have felt in The Patriot, when his son signed up to fight in the revolution. As soon as he was sworn in by Commanding Officer Corporal Wil Ross Gibson of the Texas 11th, he was gussied up in true blue form. Blue for the Union, that is! One of the chaplains even gave Michael a red, white, and blue "medal," complete with a small silver bullet, to commemorate his first day of fighting.

Michael enjoyed himself immensely, and learned quite a bit about how a soldier must have felt on the battlefield. Friday, he fought and died bravely in a heated skirmish. Saturday, he fought in a battle, carried the flag, and was mortally wounded, eventually dying. A rebel shot him in the knee and he went down, then another rebel came by, and shot him again. Sunday, he was in the biggest battle of all, and fought again, most bravely. "I didn't die the last day, though!" Michael quipped. "Even though, when we were taking a picture, a rebel came by after the fight and unloaded his revolver at our feet."

There is a technical side to all this history, too. Michael is learning about Napoleonic battle tactics that the soldiers used during the Civil War. He is required to train with the troops, to learn about gun safety, and to learn how to shoot a gun. Reenactors use historically accurate, usually reproduced, muskets, with caps, black powder, and cream of wheat to make the guns smoke. And, of course, he is learning to die daily, just as the apostle Paul taught us. Actually, teaching him about war and death can be quite spiritual at times, and is a great catalyst for learning more from the Bible, which, by the way, all soldiers have to carry with them (Army issue).

For two days, my 8-year-old son Hunter was on the sidelines, complete in his spurious Texas Ranger outfit, aiming his musket at the "Greycoats" and defending his brother on the Union side. All I could think of was the line from the movie A Christmas Story. "You'll shoot your eye out, kid!" But then I remembered
he had a harmless wooden musket.

Liendo Plantation has an Civil War reenactment one weekend each November. Will Detering, whose family has owned the plantation since 1960, allows Texas Cavalry, Infantry, and Artillery troops to reenact a fictional scenario of the Civil War on its grounds at the end of each year. The troops gather in encampments, divided into north and south factions. In the Sutler's Village, vendors peddle their wares, much of it period clothing and goods from the civil war era or earlier. Sutlers were actually merchants who followed army camps to peddle their wares to the soldiers. On the grounds of the plantation, others demonstrate weaving, blacksmithing, candle and soapmaking, and other hobbies or crafts from America's pioneer days.

Corporal Gibson explained that the 2002 event was the fourth time the reenactors had gone to this particular Civil War Weekend at Liendo Plantation. In four years, they have grown to be one of the largest events in the state of Texas, if not the biggest gathering west of the Mississippi. Gibson noted that participants come from all over the country, from Washington state to California, Iowa to New England. He noted that the local company, the Texas 11th, "is made up of a cross section of the community ... doctors, lawyers, engineers, educators, students, professional people, and ranchers."

"You name it," he said. "They all join for many reasons ... they love horses, wish to honor an ancestor, and even, just like to camp.

"But they all have a common element and that is a passion for US and Texas history."

Reenacting history is a fast growing hobby, and does include many homeschooled families. Most reenactment groups have a place for everyone to join in the family ... mothers, daughters, fathers and sons, there is a niche for everyone. Gibson added, "We are a family based group, and have even had babies out with us in period attire in antique cradles." The group has a Corp of Cadets for young men 11 to 15. The young men learn all the skills required to camp, take care of themselves, and more importantly, take care of each other. He added that at age 16, they become full-fledged troopers and can participate on the battlefield, mounted on horses. Women, young and old, have several impressions they do from a working in a commissary, acting as laundresses, creating a Ladies Aide Society, or working as seamstresses and weavers.

And there are many traveling opportunities. Gibson explained that in 2002 the Texas 11th traveled to Mobile, Alabama to re-create Admiral Farragut's siege of Mobile Bay. "We also went to the 140th Anniversary reenactment of Antietam (Sharpsburg to us Southerners) Maryland to re-enact the bloodiest single day in American military history," he continued. "And next July we'll be heading back to Gettysburg for it's 140th anniversary." As a sidenote, Gibson also played an extra in the movie Rough Riders, starring Tom Berringer.

For more information about the 11th Texas Cavalry, check out http://www.liendo.org or the 11th Texas Cavalry at http://11texascav.org/. For more information on Civil War events in your area, check out http://www.sutler.net/eventlist.asp. You can view other types of living history events at http://www.7cs.com/lvh1.htm. To find reenactment materials, you can do a search on the words sutler or sutlery in any search engine

Copyright ©  2003 Eclectic Homeschool Association

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