Wow, what a whirlwind of a summer

My project has near its end, and I cannot express in words what I have learned through it. Beyond the logistics of learning to film video footage (and edit it later), I gained an appreciation for history and also historical interpretation. Each battlefield that I visited preserves its heritage in slightly different ways. Gettysburg is home to monuments galore, documenting exactly where troops were at almost every moment of the 3-day battle. Even with these present-day reminders, the park is undergoing a renewal to bring the battlefield back to its 1863 appearance. Its visitor center is large, and puts the battle in sequence with the rest of the civil war.

Manassas, VA takes a slightly different take – having the challenge of interpreting both 1st and 2nd Manassas, I suppose, necessitates this. There are monuments, but not on as large a scale as Gettysburg. Vicksburg falls somewhere in between Gettysburg and Manassas, and Appomattox is a category unto itself – recreating an entire village locked in a time capsule marked: 1865. Fort Sumter is different, too, because the park is located on an island, and is not a battlefield in the traditional sense, but rather the site of a battle.

All  of these observations deviate somewhat from my point: visiting the battlefields brought them to life. Despite the statues and monuments, standing where soldiers fought and died gave me chills. I hope my video clips bring a fraction of this feeling alive for students in elementary school classrooms.

Finally, the primary document research I did was probably my favorite part of the trip. It was frustrating at times, because I did not have a clear idea of exactly what I wanted – I just knew I would know when I found it. Thankfully, that happened in South Carolina. The archives at the South Carolina Historical Society were immense – image Swem Special Collections but BIGGER. I stumbled upon the accounts of the Haskell family, a family that got caught up in the Civil War and  ultimately lost two of its sons to the Confederate cause. This family’s letters brought the “real” history of war to life for me, the feelings of frustration and fear, the love and longing for family. Through these documents I hope students will begin to see the Civil War not as a war between Grant and Lee, with a turning point and a conclusion (sadly often the spin taken when you only have a few days to teach the unit), but a conflict that uprooted everyone’s lives. I could not help but think of the war our country is currently embroiled in. While I have not lost anyone to the war, I imagine for those that have these letters would be a poignant reminder that though circumstances change, the human spirit does not.

My website, then, is not in one sense “finished.” It has the basics – video footage, background information, time lines, and primary documents – what I set out to provide, but I want to continue to add and embellish it when I find new resources. Learning never ends, and I certainly do not want this site to become outdated. I hope, once it goes live, input from real teachers will help me guide my development of future aspects of the site.

What have I learned? That the Civil War was not as black and white as it is made out to be; visiting new geographic areas introduced me to a point of view I hadn’t been exposed to. I appreciate the contrasting opinions  and points of view, and hope the website I created will show this.