The battle lines were drawn as Union soldiers charged into Confederate territory and partook in the re-creation of the single bloodiest day in American history.
And for the SkyView Academy fifth-graders, who got to act out the Battle of Antietam May 7 at Chatfield State Park, it will no doubt be a day they never forget.
“Sometimes learning about history can be a little boring and tedious, but getting to act it out is really fun,” said Cambrie Vergeire, who played the part of a private in the Confederate army. “I’ve always wanted to be an actor so it was a chance to see what that’s like and we also got to learn about what it is like to be a soldier, all the walking and marching and having guns. It’s good we don’t have to go through what they did.”
Cambrie will not only take her lessons learned with her, but will have the chance to watch her acting debut after a 30-minute DVD of the battle is compiled. The school, which joined up with Colorado Academy on its field trip, partnered for the second consecutive year with You Can Live History, a Colorado nonprofit that has reached more than 100,000 students in 22 years throughout Colorado and Wyoming, putting together re-enactments, filming them, and educating the students about the battles.
“There were 23,000 soldiers killed, missing or wounded during 12 hours in the Battle of Antietam,” said Darrell Osburn, president and founder of the organization. “To put it in perspective, on 9/11 we lost 3,000 people in one day, and the population of the United States was almost exactly one-tenth what it is now back then. People don’t realize what a big deal it was. It affects our nation and our politics to this day.”
Osburn said the goal of the re-enactments is to get the students excited about history, and that the more they learn about war, the more he hopes they will work for peace.
That goal resonated with fifth-grader Maxim Grenier, who entered the re-enactment with a passion for history and a desire to someday become a soldier. Afterward, Maxim said he no longer wanted to be a soldier.
“I comprehended what it was like being right in the middle of battle and getting to feel what the soldiers felt with all the casualties and people dying around them,” said Maxim, who portrayed a Confederate sergeant major.
SkyView teacher Erin Bidwell doesn’t remember what side she was on as a Denver Christian student in 1997, but she did recall participating in one of Osburn’s battles, which prompted the inclusion of his field days to the school’s lesson plans.
“It was one thing that I still remembered from fifth grade,” she said. “It’s fun to get the students excited about history and to know they get to experience it rather than just read about it in a book or watch a video. This is what it would be like, or at least as close as we can get it to.”