Students get a glimpse of Civil War life

ST. MARYS -Area school students got to step back in time Friday and visit life during the Civil War.

Friday was school day of living history for hundreds of area students at the Blue & Gray Days at the St. Marys Marina. Close to 1,000 school children from Tyler, Ritchie, Wood, Washington, Ohio and Pleasants counties toured the camp and demonstration stations set up at the marina.

“This teaches children what life was really about,” said Blue & Gray Days organizer Verna Owens. “Books only teach so much.”

Students spent the day at the marina learning about aspects of Civil War life from re-enactors. The re-enactors came from all over the area, including Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Doug Riley of Tunnelton, W.Va., who portrays Stonewall Jackson, said the event was well-organized. Riley, in his fourth year portraying Stonewall Jackson, is a former history teacher and administrator from Preston County.

“Events like this are real applications to students to see how history was,” he said. “You have to tell the story of history to get the desire to read and understand it. I enjoy teaching.”

Students toured 15 stations as re-enactors provided demonstrations related to infantry, cavalry, signal flags, medicine, newspapers, the Underground Railroad, quilting, tatting, cards and games, music and tinsmithing.

The event also included portrayals of Confederate spy Nancy Hart and Jackson.

Jim Haddox, one of the organizers, said this is the third year they’ve held an educational component to the Blue & Gray Days.

“For the kids this is keeping history alive,” he said.

Haddox said officials try to add something new to the event each year. This year was Riley’s portrayal as Jackson.

Claude Marra, WVU extension service agent in Pleasants County, said Riley’s presence was possible by a grant from the West Virginia Humanities Council.

The weekend event is made possible through the efforts of the Kanawha Artillery Battery, the Pleasants County Commission and the WVU extension office.

“This event is one of the greatest things we can sponsor,” said Pleasants County Commissioner Jim Cottrill.

Riley was tested on his knowledge of Jackson’s life. Riley, as Jackson, told students he grew up about two days (horseback) ride to the east from St. Marys, referring to Clarksburg.

The general was asked if there was any truth to the rumor he was born in Parkersburg- a claim made on a plaque on the city’s floodwall.

Riley acknowledged the general having relatives in the Wood County area and visiting, but he flatly denied claims of Jackson’s birth in Parkersburg.

“That is absolutely false,” he said. “It is well-documented he was born in Clarksburg.”

Blue & Gray Days continues today with the camp opening at 9 a.m. and highlighted by the skirmish on Main Street at 2 p.m. The evening closes with a ball at the marina.

There will be a second battle Sunday at the marina at 1:30 p.m.