The day started small.
Social studies teacher Tom Haywood stood on the front lawn of Indian Creek Middle School 13 years ago and fired a musket with two fellow Civil War re-enactors.
The next year, students learned how to make the hardtack biscuits Civil War soldiers ate between battles and listened to a woman tell her version of the war at home. Cannons were fired, and students were given a glimpse of the war.
Steadily, Indian Creek’s Civil War Day has grown. What started as three re-enactors on a school lawn has morphed into a full day of activities that concludes a year of learning about early America.
The camp is May 16 at the high school.
History can be dry with long, wordy textbooks that don’t keep an eighth-grade student’s attention, Haywood said. The idea behind the Civil War Day is to bring an authentic look at history to students, he said.
“History has traditionally been taught in a very dry way,” he said. “I really feel you have to bring history to life for them.”
The popular day coincides with Civil War celebrations at Conner Prairie Interactive History Park in Fishers. Many re-enactors and storytellers are in the area for that event and are willing to drive south to Indian Creek for the program. Their pay is lunch provided by the school’s student council.
An large-group instruction room will be transformed into a ballroom, so students can learn Civil War period dancing.
They will bake hardtack biscuits and hear from re-enactors about their experiences. Muskets will be shot, and a flag ceremony will take the school’s flag down to half-staff to commemorate the war’s 150th anniversary.
“It’s easy to cover topics quickly, but they aren’t always authentic,” Haywood said.
Eighth-grade students spend the year learning about American history from colonization through the Civil War. That curriculum is outlined by the Indiana Department of Education.
Haywood dresses up in costumes throughout the year, playing a fur trader and Abraham Lincoln.
But the Civil War Day is the only lesson that encompasses a whole day. Plus, Haywood said, students don’t have to go on a field trip to get the same type of experience.
“We do what we can for the kids. We can’t do a Civil War re-enactment; that takes hundreds of soldiers,” he added.
Re-enacting Civil War history has been a tradition in the Trafalgar area. The events formerly spanned a weekend, and students would bring their parents back on Saturday.
After a few years, attendance on the weekend waned and didn’t support continuing that aspect. Now only eighth-graders get the full experience.
As the day has grown, Haywood used his contacts as a Civil War re-eneactor to bring in more actors and storytellers.
He wants the day to go further than just learning about the war through a history class. He wants to go across all the major subjects students learn in eighth grade.
Statistics on the war could be taught in math class. Literature from the time period could be studied in English class. Health classes could teach students about the affects of diseases that ravaged soldier camps in the war.
“Growing this event would be growing it beyond just the social studies dude doing it,” Haywood said.