PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) - For a few hours today about 200 eleventh graders got a taste of what the Civil War was like for Arkansas soldiers and civilians.
The sun glinted down on an artillery piece as the new recruits for the 38th Arkansas Infantry begin drill practice under the leadership of re-enactor Corporal Kent Goff.
"Your heels together, toes comfortable distance apart. Eyes right, front." Hollers Goff, his son Seth clothed in union blue acts as a demonstrator.
These new recruits, otherwise known as 11th graders from Paragould High School, are getting a sample of what it was like to be living during the Civil War. Clothed in Confederate gray, a replica of the coats made in Little Rock at the state prison, Goff follows a prescribed set of drills exactly as they were written in the 1800's.
History teacher Vickie Kunau says this hands-on education makes studying the Civil War more personal to the kids and fills their requirements for the Arkansas section of Civil War history.
Kunau, "Having re-enactors come in and give the kids some personal stories about what happened in Arkansas during the Civil War helps cover some of those frameworks."
11th grader Brandie Gaines said she enjoyed the marching and the discussions on weaponry, "But everybody seems to focus on like the fighting and what each side went through and now we're gonna learn about the women and what they went through."
That part of the program would teach that for those left behind, their very survival would depend on what they could take with them at a moments notice as the enemy approached.
Re-enactor Kristyn Watts, whose husband Randall was teaching cannonading described the hardships that those people felt. "It was a constant worry for the women and children at home because they didn't know if there would be soldiers on their front door the next morning or morning after and if so what were they going to do about it." Watts, dressed in period clothing held a cloth sack that clinked and clanked. "I'm not very rich so I would grab what I have, which fits in this bag and take it with me."
Of course there were lots of weapons involved in the war both large and small calibers. Ethan Goff showed off his knowledge of rifles and related a story of Arkansas Civil War era Governor Rector.
Goff, "He had some very interesting ideas. He actually wanted to secede from the Confederacy and make Arkansas an Independent nation."
Meanwhile, back in camp, the 38th recruits were getting a lesson in how to load and fire a rifle. Although they weren't allowed to fire that weapon they could still appreciate the skill it took to put in the powder, ram and fire the weapon as the sound reverberated around the field.
After a classroom lecture, Cannoneer Randall Watts and selected student volunteers began the siege of the bleachers firing the cannon which produced a loud report, a lot of smoke and cheers and applause from the students.
The 38th Arkansas Infantry was very real, made up of men basically from Randolph, Lawrence, Greene and Poinsett counties. Later on men from Craighead, Yell and Izard counties rounded it out. The 38th fought in 4 major battles and numerous skirmishes. Over all, Arkansas lost about three thousand soldiers and officers in battle.
Even for a day those new recruits followed in their fore fathers steps so many years ago.