Colorado Academy fourth graders had the opportunity to not just read about history, but to experience it firsthand this month. With the help of Denver non-profit You Can Live History, students dressed as Union and Confederate soldiers and reenacted a Civil War Battle of Cold Harbor.

“It really brings it home as to what it’s like to be a soldier, and what it’s like to face an enemy,” says fourth-grade teacher Chris Hertig, shading his eyes from the sun. “The Civil War really becomes more real to them.”

Hertig is standing in a field in Chatfield State Park while Colorado Academy students, along with students from North Star Elementary School and Sky View Academy, tote rifles and flags to the persistent beat of a drum.

The students are playing out the Battle of Cold Harbor, which took place in Hanover, Virginia in 1864. The battle, fought over the vital crossroads of Old Cold Harbor, was the final victory won by Robert E. Lee’s army.

Lasting from May 31 to June 12, 1864, the battle was a standoff between Confederate and Union soldiers after the Union seized the crossroads. Confederate soldiers later capitalized on weary reinforcements and defeated the Union at all points.

“Front fire: Ready? Take aim,” yells a volunteer for You Can Live History to a cluster of Confederate soldiers. The cameras start rolling and the students fire off cannons and rifles as smoke blows in the background.

This is the fourth year students from CA have reenacted the Civil War with You Can Live History. Before the battle, students read a script that details the event, and then make their own professional Civil War video.

“This is one of the highlights of the year,” says Hertig of the reenactment that supplements the fourth-grade Civil War unit. “It’s a great way to teach history and it helps with the lesson going forward.”

Everything they learned is evident at the end of the day when students return to CA and chat about Grant and Lee. Later, they write down their reflections.

“I thought it was very experiential because we got to really see what it was like on a battle field,” says fourth-grader Desi Silverman- Joseph, looking up from his lined notebook.

“Now I know the idea of war and also what it looked like, and I have a better idea of the hardships and the troubles.”

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