The first thing they noticed visiting the homes around Gettysburg were the bullet holes.
It’s one of the few clearly visible remnants remaining of a war that almost broke our country into two. And it gave a traveling group of students from IN-Tech Academy a chance to see the American Civil War up close and personal.
The place was Gettysburg National Military Park, part of a two-day trip to Pennsylvania where these students were not just catching the sights, but were also given the opportunity to meet the people who lived through the clash, beginning at historical gems like the Shriver House, a 19th century mansion that was literally stuck in the middle of that infamous battle.
“History in general is a story, but you don’t get to hear about the social aspects sometimes,” said Noelia Wassaff, 16.
They were trained at Seminary Ridge, which served as the Confederate battle line just before Independence Day in 1863. There the IN-Tech students were taught the same military techniques the Union and Confederate soldiers would have learned themselves like how to charge, double step and some drills.
They also were given satchels containing the name of someone who had lived during the Civil War, and their fate.
“They learned the drills rather quickly, and at the end, they opened the satchels to see who they were in history and if they survived, were wounded, helped someone or didn’t make it,” assistant principal David Wiessburg said.
But the story of the Shriver family also taught the students lessons about life and loss.
“They taught us about the struggle of losing someone,” said Maham Hassan. “The family had lost their father, and sometimes in life that happens, and you don’t know what to do with yourself.”
During the tour, the students saw themselves through the tragedy of those who had lived so long ago, like a nine-year-old boy who served as a drummer boy.
The Civil War oftentimes is referred to as “The Boy’s War” mainly because of the number of teenage soldiers who enlisted. Although the legal age to join the fighting was 18, many boys lied to recruiters in order to join because they wanted to fight.
Drummer boys were usually much younger, typically seen in history walking beside the marching soldiers. The blare of battle usually made it difficult for soldiers to hear commanding officers, so the young boy used various drum rolls that translated into certain orders for the soldiers like “attack now” or “retreat.”
As little as history talks about these young drummers, some of the students were able to use him to help draw parallels between the past and today.
“We’re surrounded by history and change every day,” Wassaff said. “In Washington D.C., I went to the March for Our Lives event. I’ve been a part of a movement just like the drummer boy.”
The nearly 50 IN-Tech students ranged from sixth grade to high school seniors. They were given the opportunity to go inside of a 360-degree cyclorama — a massive image that surrounds viewers, placing them right on the battlefield through art and multi-media.
“I know for a lot of them, just moving and seeing that this history could have been written completely different means something much more for our students of color,” Wiessburg said.
“They were so excited to learn. They were really taking everything in. We were on the go, and it was really a jam-packed full two days. We were moving from historical site to historical site.”
Wiessburg has worked in education for more than a decade and strives to take his students out of the classroom whenever he can. And it likely won’t stop at Gettysburg.
Saige Welsh, a 17-year-old student at IN-Tech, expressed interest in hitting Boston next, for example, because of all the wars and history that has focused there.
“You were able to be on the battleground where actual people fought for a reason.” Welsh said. “It’s interesting to see how far we’ve come.”