Living history at Maloit Park in Minturn
Confederate soldier Samuel Erickson looked across the lunch table at Union soldier Erik Forbes, talking about what they were learning by re-enacting the Battle of Shiloh.
“We’d be better trained than many of the solders who fought, based just on what we learned today,” Erickson said.“We learned how to die, how to take orders and what the commands mean.”
Hundreds of local eighth graders gathered in Minturn’s Maloit Park with Darrel Osburn, of You Can Live History, a Colorado nonprofit that teaches history through war re-enactments.
The eighth graders in this re-enactment learned they’re about the same age as some soldiers who fought and died at Shiloh, but Osburn agreed that most of the eighth graders are better trained.
“Many soldiers didn’t learn how to load their muskets until the end of that day, if they lived that long,” Osburn said.
Many didn’t. The Battle of Shiloh killed 24,000 soldiers: 13,000 Union and 11,000 Confederate.
At one point, the Union soldiers retreated into the woods. After multiple assaults across an open field, the Confederates rolled in 62 cannons and obliterated those woods. Of the 5,000 Union soldiers that went in, 2,500 lived to come out.
“It’s very realistic in some ways,” Osburn said. “It may appear that I’m training them to be soldiers. That’s not the case. By the end the day, the opposite tends to happen. It’s not jingoistic war mongering. There are lessons to be learned.”
Lessons about living and dying
“We’re learning about it, and in a fun way,” said student Allison Armstrong.
Osburn outfits soldiers in Union blue and Confederate gray. Kids get muskets, officers get sidearms. Artillery crews man cannons.
During their downtime Monday, swashbuckling boys fought with swords. Muskets were fitted with bayonets and cannons mowed down solders by the dozen, but they popped up when Osburn told them to.
The muskets and cannon were charged with flour, not gunpowder.
Like real war, who dies in a re-enactment isn’t hard to determine. If someone points a musket or cannon at you and you see a puff come out of the barrel in your direction, then you’re dead.
Unlike real war, almost no one gets injured during one of Osburn’s reenactments.
Kids learn safety, along with marching, acting and lots of history. Osburn said in the 22 years they’ve been at this they’ve had no serious injuries – and that’s with 120,000 kids participating.
The lessons are real.
“You have to watch out all around because people everywhere are trying to kill you,” said student Kylie Martin.
Historians have revised the Civil War casualty figures up from the previously accepted 600,000 to between 750,000-800,000.
“Today that would be the equivalent of 8 million in a war in this country,” Osburn said.
Ask people how many Civil War battles were fought and they’ll come back with between six and 25.
“There were 10,500 battles fought in the Civil War. Of those, 25 were on par with Waterloo and just as devastating,” Osburn said.
Walking history lesson
Osburn is a story-teller and self-taught historian, reading everything he could get his hands on. He didn’t learn history in college, he said.
He played guitar in The Osburns, a successful rock band that toured the United States, Asia and Europe. The band broke up in the 1980s and Osburn took on a series of odd jobs, eventually ending up homeless but still studying history and trying to figure out what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
Thom Adorney was a fourth and fifth grade teacher who helped Osburn get started with the You Can Live History nonprofit.
“He knows more than almost any college professor I’ve ever encountered,” Adorney said.
“I thought I could do better than just talk about it,” Osburn said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935, and email@example.com.