THE STUFF AND THE PEOPLE
There’s just one thing I have to know, and that’s: Did Armistead get to see Hancock before he died?” The question came from a mother who, together with her children, had attended a program I gave at the Bethel-Tulpehocken Community Center, here in central Pennsylvania. She, like millions of Americans, had seen the movie Gettysburg, and had responded warmly to its vignettes of personal loyalty, friendship, courage, and honor. Her newfound interest in the Civil War had begun chiefly as an interest in the individual human stories of the great conflict.
The program I presented that day was geared for 6- to 10-year-olds. Titled”Jacob Miller: Pennsylvania Soldier in the Civil War,” it traced the experiences of a fictitious Yankee foot soldier, and included some talking,a few songs, and a display of artifacts. (Everyone chuckled when it turned out that one of the youngsters in the audience was named Jacob Miller.)At the conclusion of the talk, the kids (and several adults who had joined the fun) came up to try on replicas of a Hardee hat and a kepi, and to touch the artifacts. Every child in the room had to lift the small artillery projectile I had brought along, and handle each of the mini?balls.
The kids-and the grown-ups-were all engaging in the two kinds of activity that help people develop a genuine curiosity about history, and even a love for it. First, they were discovering the “neatness” of the historic”stuff”: the look of the uniforms, the elegant simplicity of the powerful weapons, the martial splendor of the insignia. Second, they were learning to imagine history through the eyes of people who lived it-to appreciate that the people of the past were really, truly people, just like them. For the woman who asked me about Armistead, Gettysburg had accomplished this second task.
My parents exposed me to a lot of “living history” as I grew up, at places like Colonial Williamsburg and Old Sturbridge Village. That helped nurture what would become a lifelong interest in how the people of the past lived their lives, what skills they had, what they ate, what they wore, etc. Now,I try to take my own children down the same path of discovery that I traveled, exposing them to the “old stuff” and the people of the past.Fortunately, my wife is a good judge of when enough is enough!I can only hope that the movies, the talks at community centers, the living history, and all the things that let people “enter” the past and appreciate it will continue to capture the imaginations of youngsters and grown-ups alike, and lead them into a deeper and more mature understanding of history.
(By the way, if you’re wondering about Armistead, he never did get to see his friend Hancock, who was also seriously wounded.)
Jim Kushlan, Editor, Civil War Times
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