Civil War, Central students share their projects

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Central student Derek Ehrhardt discusses his work on an Illinois regiment with WWII veteran Elaine Syverson.

Ellen Collins, Elkader, reviews one of several Civil War displays created by Central sophomores.

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

Central students last week had a chance to display their work in a setting that fit the era of their subject matter. The students presented their research on the Civil War at the Carter House Museum and Annex.

Pioneer brothers Ernest and Henry Carter built the house in the 1850s in Elkader, about a decade before the start of the war. Ernest (E.V) served as a major in the Union Army. He returned to Elkader in 1866 only to die at home of consumption—an all too common occurrence for soldiers. 

“We learned that two-thirds of soldiers died of disease and not wounds from getting shot,” said Central sophomore Mikhaela Farmer, adding that dysentery was a leading cause of death following closely by typhoid fever, consumption, small pox and others. Her partner on the project, Megan Nemechek, added that many others died from unsanitary conditions including cleaning amputation tools by wiping them across a doctor’s dirty apron.

Twenty-eight 10th grade students were paired up for the project, which spanned their science, history and English classes. Each pair randomly selected a regiment to study. Many followed Mikhaela and Megan’s lead and chose regiments that were particularly decimated by disease. Others were more intrigued by battles or leaders.

The students’ displays featured maps, portraits, lists and timetables. Their work also included a research paper on the regiment, said social studies teacher Mark Wiley, one of three instructors involved in the project. 

For some students, information on their chosen regiment was hard to find. But when they did unearth something, they were excited about sharing it, said English instructor Carolyn Yanda.

“It was fun listening to them as they discovered new information,” she added.

Austin Ellis and Dillon Schuety were so intrigued by the role that clothing played in the war that they included swatches of fabric in their display. Not every soldier was issued a new uniform in the color that represented the side they fought on, they learned. There was a range of shades, which sometimes made it difficult to separate Union and Confederate fighters.

“Stonewall Jackson was injured by friendly fire because some of his own men mistook him for the enemy in the dark,” explained Austin.

They boys also learned about the cost of war to families. They researched two brothers, Patrick Henry Taylor and Isaac Taylor of the Minnesota 1st Regiment. 

“They went all through the war together,” Dillon said, “and then Isaac lost his life at the Battle of Gettysburg and his brother buried him there.”

In addition to social studies and English, the project included a science component.

“From a biology standpoint, they had three main objectives: understand how disease is transmitted, understand how sanitation affects disease and understand how the body fights disease through the immune response,” said science instructor Ann Gritzner. 

Gritzner believes that approaching the project as an English, history and science assinment deepened the students’ learning experience.

“Rather than just memorizing how diseases spread, they had a real-life historical situation in which to apply the learning. It makes learning more interesting and meaningful. I feel they gained a deeper understanding not only of the Civil War but also of the nature of disease.”

As the project neared completion, Wiley worked with Betty Buchholz to set up a presentation day and time, and Gritzner worked with the local American Legion post to get their members and veterans to come see the displays. Knowing that others would view their work made a big impression on the students.

“It was great to have an audience that was truly interested,” Gritzner said.

“Knowing they were to present to community members gave them incentive to do the best they could,” Yanda added. “I could see as they were finalizing their projects that they were really taking pride in their accomplishment.”

The students’ projects commemorate the 150th anniversary of the end of the war.

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