HANDS-ON LEARNING All Warren County 4th-graders to be Civil War soldiers for day

Published 11:28 am Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Warren County fourth-graders will get a little hands-on learning about the Siege of Vicksburg, the executive director of the Friends of the Vicksburg National Military Park said Tuesday.

“Starting the first part of 2013, all fourth-graders in the Vicksburg schools will visit the park,” executive director Bess Averett said. “We’re going to bring about 900 children through the park. They will get in free. The friends are going to pay their admission.”

She said the tour includes children in the county’s public and private schools and home-schooled students. As part of the tour, she said, the students will be inducted into the army, given a soldier’s name and experience what a new recruit went through when he joined forces to fight the Civil War.

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“We don’t know if the students will be in the Confederate or Union army, or both. We are still developing the curriculum for the program,” she said.

“They will go from station to station to do what soldiers did then,” she said. “They will look at and examine the equipment and eat the same food that was served to troops then.”

Averett, who was named executive director in April, said the tour is one of several programs being planned by Friends of the Vicksburg National Military Park, a group formed to raise funds, promote the park and assist park officials.

She said the programs will supplement the events planned when the 150th anniversary of the siege is observed on Memorial Day weekend. Though Vicksburg surrendered on July 4, the sesquicentennial observance is being moved so it will not conflict with the observance of the Battle of Gettysburg on July 4.

“The sesquicentennial observance has the potential to bring untold numbers of visitors to Vicksburg,” Averett said. “We have had two years to see what other people in other areas have done.”

She said recent observances across the South have led to large crowds visiting parks and battle sites and adding to the local economy.

“In 2011 at Fort Sumter, (Charleston, S.C.) where the Civil War began, they had 328,000 visitors in nine days,” she said. “The area averages about 200,000 visitors a year. You can imagine what that did for the town.”

Averett said other programs planned by the Friends of the Vicksburg National Military Park include luminaries around the park monuments during the Memorial Day observance and another undisclosed program for July 3.

She said the organization is looking for members, adding she wants to surpass a similar organization at Gettysburg, which has 400 members.

“We’re better than that,” she said. “And we are growing. We now have 200 members. When I took the job as executive director, we had 40.”

She said people wanting to join the Friends of the Vicksburg National Military Park can visit www.friendsofvicksburg.org. Membership levels include regular at $25 annually, sustaining at $50, supporting at $75 and patron, $100. Membership includes an annual subscription to the newsletter and invitations to members-only events. Patron-level members receive an annual VNMP pass.