Did you know that at least 15,000 Canadians fought in the Civil War? There may have been more that fought but we have no records of the men that fought for the South. Because of the cotton coming from the South, Britain sided with and supported the Confederates. Canada too, in some instances, aided the South by giving refuge to Confederate soldiers. In some ways then, the civil war seeped into Canada. Most of Canada’s population is located along the US border, and many Americans had moved north to start new farms. When the call to arms came, many of these farmers rushed down to help fight the South.
Two weeks ago, I went with my 7/8 class to the Otterville Civil War Re-enactment. The little town of Otterville (what – you haven’t heard of it?!) actually has a little Civil War cemetery. It was a rainy, cold afternoon, which always seems to add to the solemnity of these events. We filed off the bus and were greeted by a Union soldier who led us to the town blacksmith. He was very interesting, but it was also very nice to stand around the nice warm forge.
Next was the field doctor. His demonstrations and speech was definitely the highlight of the afternoon. His tools and instruments were all lined up in front of him as he proceeded to tell us how to amputate a limb. It was at that point that I was thankful I skipped lunch. I noticed that some of the students were becoming a little white faced as he enthusiastically explained the proper method of cutting the skin off of an amputated arm into proper flaps. One student started to edge to the back of the crowd as the ‘doctor’ instructed us how to saw through the bone. When he picked up a pair of pliers, I led a couple of the shell shocked students away from the tent to have a little breather. I made sure they were out of earshot. I came back just in time to hear him talking about how the doctor would sometimes have to dig into the wound and dig out the artery with a clamp. I was feeling very woozy by the time he was finished. When he ended, he asked for questions. I jumped in like an acrobat – “Sorry – no time for questions – got to keep moving!” The doctor looked a little disappointed. We moved along as the good doctor waved goodbye (with a saw in his hand) and told us to come back when we had more time.
It was now time to learn how to shoot a musket. We gathered around a couple of Union soldiers who gave us a couple of demonstrations. After the smoke cleared away, and the ringing in our ears subsided, one of the soldiers asked if the teacher would like to shoot the musket. “Look at the time!” I said. “I think everyone wants to go back and listen to the doctor explain how he treats gangrene.” It was to no avail. The kids were chanting “Shoot! Shoot!” I stepped forward took the musket and loaded her up. A Civil War soldier was expected to shoot three rounds per minute. It only took me four minutes. I shot the musket with perfect precision. Half the students fell to the ground for effect.
As I led the students back to bus, I listened in on the excited chatter about amputated limbs, 19th century clothing, muskets, bullet wounds and battles. I love how history can come alive like it did that afternoon for a grade 7/8 class and for their teacher.