By Bill Schlichting
Pilot staff writer
Gunshots and cannon fire were heard on the grounds of Upper Chetco Charter School April 25 when Civil War history buffs shared their relics and knowledge to students.
Unlike previous years when students from Azalea Middle School gathered to reenact the Civil War by role playing, this year they were able to see people in uniform, the arms used, rations that were eaten and hear stories from two camps the Union and the Confederacy.
Members of the group based in Astoria showing the reenactment are from throughout Oregon, but most of their demonstrations are in the Willamette Valley and on the coast.
Students were divided into four groups to view each station and learn about the war.
Among the noisiest relics was a cannon used in the early 1860s war between the northern states and southern states.
Operating the cannon were historians dressed as soldiers from the 2nd U.S. Artillery Battery, which was the first U.S. battery in Oregon in Fort Stevens near Astoria.
Students were given the opportunity to work the cannon, using only a firing cap.
Teams of five students each took their turns at firing the cannon one person to clean the barrel, another to load the imaginary powder and cannonball, a third to pack the powder, a fourth to operate the air vent and place the firing pin, and the last to fire the cannon.
When the firing mechanism was pulled, it set off the firing cap, which echoed through the cannon barrel, sounding like a hammer striking a metal pipe.
At the end of the demonstration, the Union uniform-clad historians Sgt. Maj. Jack Bentley and Lt. Lois Warrick and adult chaperones took their turn, this time using black powder, but no ammunition. The students were told to stand behind a fence and, much to their amusement, told to plug their ears and open their mouths. The open mouth helps equalize the pressure caused by the sound of the cannon.
Everyone on the field, whether watching the cannon demonstration, or observing at other stations, jumped as they not only heard the cannon fire, but felt the sound which was like a sudden rush of wind against the clothing that lasted less than a second.
Students were told that, during the war, the soldiers were expected to fire the cannon three times a minute. There were six cannons in a battery.
At another station, Capt. Lonny Johnson showed Union rifles and sabers. Among the first items he passed around was a cannon ball. Much to the surprise of the students, they found it quite heavy.
Contrary to popular belief, Johnson said, the ball does not fire out of a cannon in an arc and land rather it bounces at high speeds near the ground, injuring soldiers in its path.
He also showed the students a Remington pistol, which was not military issue. However, many officers would use their first paycheck to buy the pistol because it came apart in two pieces to load it, as opposed to the military-issue Colt, which had three parts to reassemble after loading.
Students also were shown a round metal ball with a long string attached to it. Most thought it was a bomb, but it was a cluster shell, the creation of British military officer Capt. Henry Shrapnel.
The shell was designed to explode, disbursing large pellets, as well as metal fragments that, to this day, are called shrapnel.
Johnson also showed students a saber, which was another common Civil War weapon.
Vicky Lunde, dressed in period costume, told students how civilians dealt with the war and supported troops on the home front.
The final station was manedd by Thomas Warrick, who posed as a Confederate lieutenant commander with the 1st Maryland Cavalry for the Confederacy (there also was a 1st Maryland Cavalry for the Union).
Maryland was considered a Union state, but leaned toward the Confederacy. A rebellion was quashed after President Abraham Lincoln had all the Confederate rebels arrested. Had Maryland joined the Confederacy, the Union capital Washington, D.C. would be surrounded by enemy territory and would have to be relocated.
However, there were many rebels from Maryland who went to the South to fight against the Union. When the war was over, these soldiers were faced with returning home and facing treason charges or find a new home.
Most of these soldiers settled in the Pacific Northwest. Their graves can be found throughout Oregon and Washington.
He showed a Confederate soldiers' daily food rations, which amounted to less than a single meal, rifles and games soldiers played for entertainment.
A saddle was also displated that was open in the center. Warrick said that the saddle was made that way to allow more comfort for the horse and rider as well as allowing airflow to help keep the horse cool. Such saddles are being used by U.S. troops in Afghanistan today, he said.
One interesting tidbit Warrick shared were parts of the Confederate uniform, such as the buttons that were made by a company in Maine a Union state.
There was nothing illegal about businesses selling goods to the Confederacy, and often sold to both sides, Warrick said.