Sophomores at James Madison Preparatory School in Tempe marched in formation Tuesday as their history teacher — dressed as a Union officer in authentic Civil War regalia — barked orders.
The outdoor exercise was a re-enactment of the manual of arms developed in the 1850s at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point for young volunteers.
Teacher Gordon Scheaffer, who grew up in Pennsylvania an hour from the Gettysburg battlefield, made sure everything was authentic for his students — even the stale hardtack he fed them at the end of the activity.
Scheaffer travels to Gettysburg annually for a reenactment of the Civil War battle, playing the role of his ancestor, 2nd Lt. Jefferson Truitt from Company D
of the 62nd Pennsylvania Volunteers.
Scheaffer said he considers the Civil War a turning point in U.S. history that students need to appreciate.
"I think it’s important for them to understand the sacrifices that were made, and the American Civil War was the ultimate sacrifice," Scheaffer said.
Sophomore Tony Vieweg, 16, said many schools gloss over the Civil War period and don’t take the time that Scheaffer does to make the period come alive.
"You don’t really get the details that he gives us," Vieweg said. "It’s a wake-up call."
Students spend two years studying American history and 13 weeks studying the Civil War.
"We don’t believe you can be an effective citizen if you’re not educated about your history," said David Batchelder, the charter school’s director.
Instead of rifles, the students Tuesday carried broomsticks, hockey sticks and mop handles — which Batchelder said was also authentic.
"Young men would have started out with broomsticks because they didn’t have enough rifles," he said.
The school has about 126 students from seventh through 12th grade.