Through a soldier’s eyes

Civil War era re-enactor Deborah Choszczyk helps Lakeview Elementary fourth grader Josie Carlson light a fire using flint and steel during a presentation at a blacksmith encampment exhibit on Thursday at the Michigan Iron Industry Museum. Lakeview was one of several schools that attended an “Iron Ore to Civil War” presentation that featured living history exhibits. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

NEGAUNEE — From a blacksmith encampment to sound of canons and bugle calls – fourth graders from Lakeview Elementary School in Negaunee got a first-hand look at what every

day life was like for both soldiers and civilians during the Civil War era.

About 80 Lakeview students attended “Iron Ore and the Civil War,” a civil war encampment sponsored by the Michigan Iron Industry Museum on Thursday.

Troy Henderson, a historian with the Michigan Iron Industry Museum, said the live exhibits can teach in a way that static museum exhibits and textbooks cannot.

“We wanted to re-create an atmosphere to show how a civil war blacksmith might work making their goods, and the conditions that civil war soldiers had to live in.” Henderson said. “As students tour the museum grounds, they get the opportunity to interact with a blacksmith at work and see what an encampment might be like, they also get to interact with civil war soldiers to learn more about their lives, they even get to see the members of Company D shoot off a civil war era cannon.”

Students’ first stop on their tour took them to the Black River Blades encampment, where Dan and Deborah Choszczyk of Champion showed them how important it was for people in the 1860s to have the ability to create a shelter, prepare food, and make a fire using basic tools.

Students listen as a re-enactor talks about life in a Civil War camp. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

Deborah Choszczyk showed the students how to start a fire using flint, steel and a piece of char-cloth.

“The ability to make a fire was very important, for lots of reasons” she said.

“If you can’t get the fire started, you might not eat that night.”

Upper Peninsula iron ore resources were instrumental in building canons and ammunition and other essentials used in the war, Dan Choszcyk told the students as he used a hammer to form a knife from metal that had just been heated in his forge.

The next stop was a military encampment reenacted by members of the Battery D 1st Michigan Light Artillery from Jackson.

Students were given the opportunity to look at the kind of sword typically used in the conflict. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

Students were asked to line up military style, and watched as members of Battery D made preparations to safely light the canon.

Troy Bongard, who led the infantry group, said soldiers in the Civil War led very difficult lives, and faced death every day. Of the 90,000 Michigan soldiers who are known to have served during the war, 14,753 died.

“We are not here to glorify war,” Bongard said. “There is nothing glorious in war. We are here to show you what life was like for those soldiers.”

Lakeview teacher Bryan Solander said students who participate in the living exhibits report experiencing a range of emotions and seem to benefit from it on both a social and an educational level.

“Most think it is, “very cool.” It always shocking when the students hear the cannon for the first time. I had one student trip and fall over,” Solander said. “I always ask my students how they feel about the trip after we are done. The reactions are usually really positive. I am always surprised at how much they can recall from each of the presenters.”

Solander teachers and students alike look forward to the reenactment each year.

“An event like this is invaluable to teachers and students,” Solander said. “To see history being portrayed by real people and not in a book or video makes a huge impression on the students. It allows them to interact with what they are learning about. It gives them a visual that they might not get from a traditional classroom setting. I certainly cannot fire a cannon in my classroom and I lack the musical ability to play the bugle. This is a trip that the students talk about for a long time after it happens.”

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is