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OA Students Experience the Civil War

By: Thomas Goldberg/History Teacher

The 11th grade class took some time to look into the historical Civil War “Graffiti House” in Brandy Station, Virginia.  Due to its location near a railroad, both the Union and Confederacy wanted this house for strategic purpose.  As a result, soldiers from both sides spent time in the house over the course of the war.  What is unique about this house is that it is covered with charcoal and pencil graffiti left by soldiers of both armies.  Graffiti served as a way for these soldiers to make their presence known during a time when each day could have been there last.  Many soldiers wrote their names on the walls while others took the opportunity to taunt the opposing side with either words or pictures.  Ultimately, the Graffiti House sheds some light on the exploits of the lower ranking soldiers who are often forgotten during the discussion of the Civil War.

In the classroom, the 11th graders got the chance to create their own version of Civil War Graffiti.  First, each student painted a brick background on a piece of wood.  Then, each student picked a military rank they wanted to include for themselves and painted their name either in a modern graffiti style or in a style matching what was used in the Graffiti House.  Finally, students were asked to include a symbol that they feel represents them, as they were required to put themselves in the shoes of a soldier who knew this may be their last chance to leave their mark on the world.

A soldier’s life during the Civil War was not an easy one.  Most soldiers spent three fourths of their time in camp, not fighting.  Training took up to 10 hours a day.  When not training, soldiers stood guard, wrote home, and gathered firewood.  A meal might be simply a dry, cracker-like product called hardtack.  Sometimes called “jawbreakers”, hardtack was a staple for a Civil War soldier, as it is sustenance that is easily preserved and can be eaten on the move.  The only ingredients used for hardtack are flour, water, and salt, so the cracker was quite bland.  Not only this, but when cooked at 400 degrees for thirty minutes, this mixture turns into a biscuit nearly hard as a rock!

Lucky for the students at Ocean Academy, they got the chance to prepare and eat some of their very own rock-hard hardtack!  Students placed all the ingredients in a mixing bowl, mixed it, rolled it out, cut it into squares, then threw it in the oven.  The next day, students that were brave enough tried the hardtack, and luckily there were no broken teeth!  With some extra hardtack leftover, students were told to imagine themselves as business people trying to make some extra money during the Civil War.  Each student carved a logo for their hardtack business, rolled some ink over it, and then transferred the logo onto some packaging paper.  The hardtack was packaged and ready to go, but unfortunately there were no buyers.