Hands-on history

Latta to hold Civil War summer camps

by Alan Hodge

Historia Latta Plantation will hold several soldier-themed camps this summer. These are scenes from the camp held in 2008.

HUNTERSVILLE – The blue and gray will come together in a friendly way this summer during Civil War soldier camps at Historic Latta Plantation.

The camps, held annually since 2005, give 8- to 12-year-olds the opportunity to dress up as Confederate or Union soldiers and experience camp life as Civil War troops knew it, take part in marching drills and meet on the battlefield.

Of course, the camp sprinkles in a dash of American history, too.

“Our purpose is to educate the participants in what the men and women went through during the Civil War,” said Matthew Waisner, Latta’s historic interpretation and event specialist.

According to Waisner, there’s room for 70 soldiers at each camp even – 35 Confederate and 35 in Union blue. Each soldier will receive a Civil War cap known as a kepi, a haversack, a blue or gray camp shirt, a canteen and a replica toy musket that shoots caps.

“At the end of the camps, those who graduate get to take all the items home,” Waisner said. “Some who have participated for several years have collected enough stuff to outfit the other kids in their neighborhood.”

Robert King, of Mooresville, is a 17-year-old camp veteran who has been to every camp since 2005.

“It’s great. We do so many different things,” King said. “You not only learn how the soldiers lived and get to fight in a battle, but also what life was like for children on a farm during the Civil War. We also learned about the lives of African-Americans in those days.”

Another seasoned Civil War soldier camp campaigner is 20-year-old Phillip Brown from Oakdale. Brown has served as a counselor for the camp since 2006.

“It’s definitely a one-of-a-kind, hands-on Civil War experience,” Brown said. “I’ve never heard anyone say they had a bad time. If they had something like this when I was 8 years old, I wouldn’t have been able to contain myself.”

Waisner said campers have come from South Carolina, Tennessee  and even California.

So, just exactly what slices of the Civil War experience can participants expect to sample? First, there will be military drill and maneuvering done according to the Civil War era book Hardee’s Manual of Arms.

“It’s not just marching around,” Waisner said. “They learn the purpose behind each movement.”

One trek planned for the recruits will be a mile-long march to Buzzard Rock, a part of the Plantation’s Nature Preserve.

Discipline is part of the learning process, and that might include a mild scolding from a sergeant.

“It’s a military education,” Waisner said with a smile. “But G-rated.”

To add to the atmosphere, Civil War-style canvas tents will be set up so the troops can take breaks and enjoy comradeship just like the boys of 1861-65 did.

One thing the Civil War soldier camp kids won’t get to experience but will likely be given information about is the horrible food, like hardtack or salt pork, that made up much of a 19th century soldier’s diet. According to Waisner, because of concerns over food allergies, each camper should bring his or her own lunch and water each day.

Perhaps the most anticipated part of each camp will be the battle scenarios. Armed with their toy muskets and plenty of caps, the kids will skirmish through the fields and woods surrounding Latta Plantation.

“They’ve even built earthworks in the woods as a defensive position,” Waisner said.

Part of the educational experience Waisner plans this year for the skirmish will include a scenario based on the Battle of Big Bethel, a fight that took place in Virginia on June 10, 1861.
The grand finale of each Latta Plantation Civil War soldier camp will be a graduation ceremony and dress parade.

Despite the outcome of the Civil War, everyone who takes part in the Latta Plantation Civil War soldier camp will come out a winner, thanks to the knowledge they gain of our nation’s history.

The first of this year’s camps, intended for children 8 to 12 years old will take place on one day, April 16. Other full-week camps are scheduled for June 20-23, July 11-14 and Aug. 1-4. The camps begin each day at 9 a.m. and last until 4 p.m. Contact Waisner at 704-875-2312 ext. 305 or at mwaisner@lattaplantation.org for more information regarding availability and cost.

Advanced registration is required.

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