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Civil War history brought to life

The popular Civil War history unit taught each year at Houlton Elementary School culminated last week with an open house and performances by re-enactment groups.

Thursday evening, Houlton fifth-graders put their three-dimensional projects on display in the school multi-purpose room for their parents and the public to see.

Afterwards, they went outside to visit with members of the 2nd Minnesota River Valley Rangers and the 4th U.S. Infantry and Medical Battery that set up camp on the grassy meadow next to the school.

Ordnance specialist Ken Martens of 4th U.S. Battery displayed rifles and bullets of the era, including two rifles - an 1862 Enfield and an 1861 Springfield - actually used in the war.

Phil Cudd of Hudson, who plays a surgeon with the 4th Battery, talked about medical procedures used during the Civil War at a field hospital set up on the grounds.

Capt. Joe Beedle, Sgt. Bruce Nelson and Pvt. Ben Quie of the 2nd Minnesota answered questions about an infantryman's life during the war.

Later in the evening, the fifth-graders, also dressed in period costume, sat around a campfire with the soldiers, listening to stories and singing camp songs.

The fifth-graders shared a breakfast of gravy and biscuits, cornbread and sausage with the re-enactors when they arrived at school Friday morning.

Then all of the Hudson School District's fifth-graders arrived for a tour of Camp Houlton - seven different stations set up by the re-enactors to teach the students about artillery and other weapons, medical procedures, camp life, Harriet Beecher Stowe, marching and more.

The 1st U.S. Artillery from New Ulm, Minn., brought a cannon that was ignited every 15 minutes to signal it was time for the students to move to the next station.

The open house and visit by the re-enactors was the climax of an American history unit on the Civil War and reconstruction taught to fifth-graders in the Hudson district.

Houlton fifth-graders have been digging into Civil War history in a big way since members of the 2nd Minnesota made their first visit to the school seven years ago.

"It's kept getting more and more and more elaborate," said fifth-grade teacher JoAnn Augustin, who along with fellow fifth-grade teacher Tim Olson organized this year's activities. Augustin is in her second school year at Houlton Elementary, and Olson is a first-year teacher there.

"The kids love it all," said Augustin. "All year it's, 'When do we start Civil War? When do we start Civil War.' It's something that most of them have been watching the older kids do ever since they've been in kindergarten."

Former Houlton teachers Liz Horneck and Tim Hassler arranged the first visit by the 2nd Minnesota in 1998.

The Houlton fifth-graders choose a Civil War topic to research and present using a three-dimensional display. The students also are required to put together a costume based on a character from the era and wear it during the open house.

"It's an incredible learning opportunity," said Peg Shoemaker, principal at Houlton Elementary.

It's one thing to hear and read about the Civil War, Shoemaker said. "To see these men and women bring it to life is really phenomenal."

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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