Vail Valley eighth-graders reenact the Civil War’s Battle of Bull Run |

Vail Valley eighth-graders reenact the Civil War’s Battle of Bull Run

Students from Homestake Peak and Gypsum Creek middle schools battle it out as Union and Confederate troops during a reenactment of the Civil War's Battle of Bull Run on Monday, May 21, at Maloit Park in Minturn. The educational field trip was put on by the nonprofit group You Can Live History.
Chris Dillmann | |

The Nordic trails and fields of Maloit Park in Minturn lay quiet most of the time, but on Monday they were ablaze with the pandemonium of battle.

Eighth-graders from Homestake Peak and Gypsum Creek middle schools were able to live history, if only for a few hours, while reenacting the Battle of Bull Run, the first major battle of the Civil War, where a Confederate victory set the stage for what many consider the most important piece of American history.

The opportunity was brought to the students through efforts of teachers and the Colorado-based nonprofit You Can Live History. The company goes around the state teaching students about the Revolutionary and Civil wars through reenactments.

“The kids say it’s the best thing they ever did in school,” said Darrell Osburn, You Can Live History owner. “They remember it 20 years from now.”

“It was fun and stressful. For one, eighth-grade students don’t like taking orders, but in the end, you find a way to make them listen,” said Sergio Rodriquez, a student who played the role of Stonewall Jackson. “We all had fun in the end.”

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Osburn said reenacting history teaches students life lessons they wouldn’t get in a classroom. Life, death, war and peace are all discussed, which he said are subjects not always addressed in a textbook.

Before hitting the battlefield, Osburn and his company meet at each school and assign roles, teach about the props they will be using and familiarize students with the roles they will portray.

Along with attention to safety, Osburn said discussion topics include period music — classical for the Revolutionary War and banjo for the Civil War. Groups also do what he calls a “laugh test,” where he yells at the students such as a drill sergeant and sees how long they can go without laughing.

Osburn said there are many little things that go into the teaching of the event and the historical timeframe. Elements down to the uniforms must have attention to detail.

“It’s not like we ran out of blue shirts,” Osburn said.

Being the first battle of the war, many uniforms were strung together based on the area and people of the country. Some even wore Revolutionary War gray uniforms and were shot at by both sides.

“It (uniforms) had an effect on the battle,” he said.

Jennifer Laackman, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Homestake Peak, said the students were studying the Civil War for about five weeks, and this was the culminating activity.

“It is a way to experience what battle is like,” Laackman said. “This is putting what we’ve talked about into action.”

Fifth-graders did a Revolutionary War reenactment a few weeks prior to the eighth-grade event.

Tracy Teetaert was a history teacher at Minturn Middle School when she thought of the idea to try to incorporate living history into the curriculum. She said the first reenactment took place around 10 years ago, when students traveled to Denver to participate.

She said she hoped bringing the experience to the Vail Valley would give more students insight into what it was really like.

“That was the biggest challenge … bringing history alive in Colorado,” Teetaert said. “They were definitely more engaged.”

Kellen Meyers, a Gypsum Creek student, agreed. He said dressing up is the most fun while being able to play with the props.

“It really brings out the history rather than sitting in a classroom,” he said.

Annika Holleman, a student who played a Union infantry soldier, felt the same.

“I think the Civil War Reenactment was an experience of a lifetime,” she said. “It was fun to learn about something that I didn’t know about and then I got to make it come to life.”

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