Waynesfield-Goshen High School
The W-G Civil War Brigade
By Joe Foster
"We need to start a club for the Civil War." This unassuming statement from one of my students was the beginning of something great at Waynesfield-Goshen High School. W-G is located in rural Ohio and has a total enrollment less than 600 students. Eight of these students helped create the W-G Civil War Brigade - a student organization dedicated "to increase awareness, stimulate interest, promote preservation and represent the history of the American Civil War and have a fun time while doing it!" But let's start at the beginning.
The Civil War has long been a passion of mine. I joined a local reenacting group as a way to satisfy a need to live history rather than just learn about it. I brought reenacting to my school through a Living History Camp in order to bring the experience to students who otherwise would never experience Civil War life first hand. I helped organize a class trip to Gettysburg National Military Battlefield. In 2006, I developed the curriculum for an elective course covering "The Civil War". This class has always done the usual Civil War activities: Eat hardtack, research battles, drill, examine artifacts and help educate elementary students in all matters Civil War. With the help of my wife, I have even taken some of these students on private tours to Gettysburg. But something was always missing: student ownership.
All of these activities were teacher led. It is the classic dilemma of educators everywhere: How can we get students to take ownership of their learning rather than simply be spoon-fed information? Thanks to the Civil War Trust and the Teacher Institute, the answer finally came to me: "Preservation". As a Civil War Trust member I had always included preservation as part of my curriculum. The 2008 and 2010 Teacher Institutes supplied me with the skills, experiences, and examples so I could take the next step. When that small group of students expressed interest in starting a Civil War club, the foundation had been set.
From the outset I made it clear this would be a student organized club. My Civil War class developed a mission statement and organizational structure. The students took the club proposal to the administration. "The Civil War Brigade" was quickly approved by the administration and school board. The students helped to create a variety of hands-on learning and service activities.
The Civil War Brigade took field trips to a local reenactment and saw a working Civil War replica cannon. We studied the battle of Fredericksburg and researched the geography and preservation efforts of the area. Using original photos we created a battlefield diorama and displayed this during a community festival where we educated the public about the need for preservation. We researched local veterans and their gravesites. We spent a day at the local cemetery recording data, placing flowers on the graves of veterans and making lead rubbings of fading tombstones. We honored all veterans by hosting a dinner for the American Legion on Veterans Day. We also placed flags on veterans' graves for Memorial Day. And we became partners in the struggle to preserve our Civil War battlefields.
We wrote essays and editorial letters to support battlefield preservation. Two students, Jessica Riemesch and Jaclyn Horn, penned essays that were honored by the Civil War Trust for their excellence. Two winners from little ol' Waynesfield, Ohio!
The Civil War Brigade slowly began to educate our community about the need for battlefield preservation. As the students learned with our cemetery research, we pass by certain things everyday and never learn the story behind them. It is a shame to do this locally; it is a tragedy to do this nationally. The Civil War Brigade rejoiced with preservation victories at the Wilderness and Gettysburg but sought to do their part as well. A Baked Good Raffle and Walk-a-thon helped us raise $459 to donate to the Civil War Trust.
While this amount is small compared to the need, it is hopefully the first of many donations to come. A popular Civil War Trust slogan asks, "What's your legacy?" Thanks to the Civil War Trust and its Teacher Institute, the W-G Civil War Brigade will have a legacy of graduating future preservationists.