THE STUFF AND THE PEOPLE
There’s just one thing I have to know, and that’s: Did Armistead get to seeHancock before he died?” The question came from a mother who, together withher children, had attended a program I gave at the Bethel-TulpehockenCommunity Center, here in central Pennsylvania. She, like millions ofAmericans, had seen the movie Gettysburg, and had responded warmly to itsvignettes of personal loyalty, friendship, courage, and honor. Her newfoundinterest in the Civil War had begun chiefly as an interest in theindividual 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 theexperiences of a fictitious Yankee foot soldier, and included some talking,a few songs, and a display of artifacts. (Everyone chuckled when it turnedout 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 joinedthe fun) came up to try on replicas of a Hardee hat and a kepi, and totouch the artifacts. Every child in the room had to lift the smallartillery 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 activitythat help people develop a genuine curiosity about history, and even a lovefor it. First, they were discovering the “neatness” of the historic”stuff”: the look of the uniforms, the elegant simplicity of the powerfulweapons, the martial splendor of the insignia. Second, they were learningto imagine history through the eyes of people who lived it-to appreciatethat the people of the past were really, truly people, just like them. Forthe woman who asked me about Armistead, Gettysburg had accomplished thissecond task.
My parents exposed me to a lot of “living history” as I grew up, at placeslike Colonial Williamsburg and Old Sturbridge Village. That helped nurturewhat would become a lifelong interest in how the people of the past livedtheir 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 Itraveled, 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 livinghistory, and all the things that let people “enter” the past and appreciateit will continue to capture the imaginations of youngsters and grown-upsalike, and lead them into a deeper and more mature understanding ofhistory.
(By the way, if you’re wondering about Armistead, he never did get to seehis friend Hancock, who was also seriously wounded.)
Jim Kushlan, Editor, Civil War Times
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