Picking Sides At Day Camp: Confederacy Or Union? At typical summer day camps, kids swim, do arts and crafts and face off on the soccer field. But at a one-day program in North Carolina, 8- to 12-year-olds take sides in the Civil War.
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Picking Sides At Day Camp: Confederacy Or Union?

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Picking Sides At Day Camp: Confederacy Or Union?

Picking Sides At Day Camp: Confederacy Or Union?

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And it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Tess Vigeland at NPR West. School is already underway in some parts of country, but some lucky kids are still enjoying the last week or two of summer camp swimming, having cookouts. But at one camp in Gaston County, North Carolina, kids are taking sides in America's bloodiest war. Reporter Michael Tomsic of member station WFAE got a day pass to Civil War camp.

MICHAEL TOMSIC, BYLINE: The Gaston County Museum is a historic red-brick building that, during the Civil War, served as a hotel. One hundred and fifty years later, 15 boys stand in the lobby helping each other guess the famous names taped on their backs.



BEN VILLAMORE: Who are you?

UNIDENTIFIED BOY#1: Stonewall Jackson.

BEN: Who am I?

UNIDENTIFIED BOY #1: I can't tell you.

BEN: I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You're a famous Union general.

TOMSIC: It's the first lesson of the museum's Civil War soldier camp. For the last five years or so, the museum has organized the camp for 8 to 12-year olds

WILL RUARK: Left, left, left, right left.

TOMSIC: An adult in a blue union uniform, Will Ruark, teaches them about soldiers training and 1860s-era guns.


NAT: Fire.

TOMSIC: The kids go through the motions with fake wooden rifles taller than they are.

JASON LUKER: Aim. Fire. Reload.

TOMSIC: Jason Luker leads the camp. He shows the kids a slideshow about Civil War generals.


LUKER: Sherman, anyone know anything about Sherman? Yes, sir?

LUKE RICHARDSON: He burned a path straight through Georgia and destroyed like half of it.

TOMSIC: They learn about the divisions that led to the war. For nine-year-old Ben Villamore, there's only one that matters.


BEN: They shouldn't have slaves because this is a free country

TOMSIC: Luker thanks Villamore for bringing that up. He says slavery was at the heart of the Civil War. He asked the boys to define slavery.


UNIDENTIFIED BOY #2: Someone who works for other people for no money and are beaten if they're not doing their work

UNIDENTIFIED BOY #3: It's someone who's held against their will and to work.

LUKER: Pretty close.

TOMSIC: Luker tells them the missing word is property. He says slaves were people who were black who had no rights - white people owned them. After learning more about slave states and free states, the kids pick sides.


LUKER: All right, sir, what would you want?

UNIDENTIFIED BOY #4: The Confederacy.

LUKER: Confederacy as well. Here you are

TOMSIC: Ben Villamore chooses the Union.

BEN: 'Cause I think since they say it's a free country, that even the slaves should be free.

TOMSIC: Luke Richardson chooses the Confederacy

LUKE: I just like fighting for my state.

TOMSIC: Richardson also has family members who fought for the Confederacy. That's a common reason kids choose the South.


KELLY MASON: I found that a lot of people from the South love their heritage, their ancestors, the stories that get passed down.

TOMSIC: That's museum outreach coordinator Kelly Mason, who says kids who choose the Union...


MASON: They love the ideas of the North - we want to fight for freedom, this is a country for free people. So the Southern is more about their family history, where the Northern people are more talking about the big ideas.


UNIDENTIFIED BOY #5: They're retreating.

TOMSIC: At the end of the day, a Union and Confederacy square off with water balloons.


RUARK: Ready. Aim. Fire.

LUKER: Fire.

TOMSIC: Everyone gets soaked. There's no clear winner. On this day, the group is all boys as it usually is, and there are no African-Americans. Stacey Malker Duff still appreciates the camp. She's the first African-American woman elected to this small town's Board of Alderman, and she says it's important for kids to learn this history.

STACEY MALKER DUFF: You know, our children need to see from whence we came. And the growth we've made. And we still have a ways to go.

TOMSIC: That's why Tim Richardson brought his sons Luke and Levi.

TIM RICHARDSON: It's so hard for them to conceptualize, you know, slavery and what that means. I mean, Luke kind of gets it, but Levi really doesn't. I have to constantly kind of re-explain what that was and why.

TOMSIC: Luke, the 12-year-old who signed up for the Confederacy puts it simply.

LUKE: I don't approve of slavery. It's just an evil thing.

LUKER: We want to be able to show them - where did you get those ideas? And it came from this major, bloody moment in our history.

TOMSIC: Camp leader Jason Luker says if every kid leaves with a desire to learn more about the Civil War, that's his dream for the camp. For NPR News, I'm Michael Tomsic.

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