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Rhode Island Youth Live a Civil War's Soldier's Life on Governors Island

Governors Island National Monument

National Park News

Most high school students learn about the Civil War by reading their social studies textbook, or listening to a lecture, or maybe putting together a class project. For the students in the 14th Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, a living history program that portrays an African-American artillery regiment recruited in Providence, Rhode Island in 1863, the life of a Civil War solider is a vivid and visceral experience. For these students history comes alive in the form of a plate of slab bacon and sweet potato, a pile of peanut shells next to a campfire, or a tin cup of gritty coffee before a march on a rainy day.

As part of Governors Island National Monument's youth program and with assistance from Eastern National, the park's bookstore operator, the group came to a real Civil War-era army post to camp out and teach visitors about the life of Civil War soldiers the first weekend in June.

Composed of students of the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center, a state chartered high school in Providence, Rhode Island and led by mentor Rob Goldman, the students fulfill a high school internship requirement by participating in the living history group's activities. Besides learning the Civil War manual of arms, a complex series of motions required to march as a group and safely fire historic black powder weapons, they develop proficiency  nearly equal to historical re-enactors and living historians, two and three times their age. As part of their studies, the students attend courses on a variety of related subjects, including historic preservation and explaining this era of history to a curious public. Participants receive not only an in-depth education about this important of part of American history, but also valuable out-of-class room experience as interns in Providence-area museums, archives and cultural institutions.

In April, the group conducted a four day march up along Blackstone River National Heritage Area, stopping and conducting living history programs for elementary and middle schools each day. That journey was documented and loaded to YouTube

Visitors traveled into the past with the regiment as they drill on the parade ground, provided historic weapons demonstrations, and demonstrate how soldiers would have lived on the island 150 years ago!


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