The Union Army reenactors loaded up their rifles with gunpowder and round balls. They took position, cheek resting on the stock, and aimed into the far distance of Monocacy National Battlefield.
“Good shot, soldiers!” two-year-old Keith Herrick said as the smoke cleared.
Herrick was at the battlefield on Saturday with his 10-year-old sister, Madison, and dad, Aaron, to watch live demonstrations of how soldiers ate, slept, fought and lived at the Battle of Monocacy.
The demonstrations were held in commemoration of the 155th anniversary of the battle. While a loss for the Union, the battle staved off the Confederates from reaching Washington, D.C., according to the National Parks Service.
At the edge of the battlefield close to the Visitors’ Center, reenactor Rob Grisebach was explaining the history of Confederate money and passing around replica bills.
“What role did children have [in the war]?” Jill Lane, of Kingsbrook, said.
The youngest recorded soldier of the war was a 9-year-old who carried a musket, Grisebach said. He was the son of a Union colonel.
While around the same age, Daniel Ireland wasn’t holding a musket, but rather a battle flag, at the music demonstration.
Dressed in his Union uniform, the 10-year-old held the standard as a group of reenactors played a set of Civil War-era battle ditties, like “Johnny Comes Marching Home” and “Minstrel Boy.”
Over the past school year, he’s been learning the drums, so that eventually he can play in reenactments, his father, Brad, said.
Saturday at Monocacy wasn’t Daniel’s first reenactment. Since he was three-months-old, Daniel has been going to reenactments with his mom and dad, who has been a reenactor for over 20 years.
Daniel said that he appreciates reenactments like the one at Monocacy National Battlefield because “it’s like living in the past without looking at a screen.”
“You can look out at the real world and see what it was like back then,” Daniel said. “It’s very interesting.”
Making Civil War history interesting is one of the reasons that the Parks Service hosts the battle demonstrations, Joe McGraw, vice president of the Monocacy National Battlefield Foundation, said.
“You need to make it fun and concrete” or else history won’t be as interesting to kids, McGraw said.
That’s why Leanna McFarland and her husband took their kids to watch the living history demonstrations.
“There’s nothing like seeing a real person dressed up like that,” McFarland said, “wearing that scratchy wool in 90-degree weather.”
Matthew Adkins Sr. was one of those reenactors wearing a “scratchy wool” uniform out on the shade-bereft battlefield.
Out manning a cannon during the artillery firing demonstration, his 6-year-old son MJ watched from just behind the yellow safety rope.
MJ said that he would like to fire a cannon one day, but he can’t just yet.
“You can practice at 15 but you can’t live-fire until you’re 16,” his father said.
However, MJ is still taking away lessons from the battle — lessons that aren’t taught in schools anymore — the older Adkins said.
One of those lessons is “the cost of war,” he added.
In the Battle of Monocacy and throughout the Civil War, soldiers suffered from surgeries without anesthesia and diseases like dysentery, reenactor Andrew Doddington said.
“Over two-thirds” of those who died in the Civil War died from disease, Doddington added.
Beyond hearing about the diseases that soldiers suffered from, kids were able to see the kinds of foods they ate and the tents they slept in.
By coming to the battlefield, 10-year-old Denson Edwards learned that soldiers slept two-in-a-tent, “half-and-half,” something he didn’t know before the reenactors showed him a replica tent.
Edwards grew up with an interest in Civil War history through his dad, Duane, a history teacher at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, VA.
He came to the battlefield wearing his own Union uniform, complete with a pack, handmade belt buckle and a toy revolver.
Though they live in Northern Virginia, being along the Maryland-Virginia border has allowed the family to visit more battlefields than they could when they lived in Arizona, Duane Edwards said.
“There isn’t much history there [in Arizona], in regard to the Civil War,” Duane Edwards said.
Kelly Zimmerman, 11, was also interested in Civil War history, particularly the battles and the causes of the war, but hadn’t gone to Monocacy National Battlefield until Saturday.
To prepare for their visit, she and her family watched “Maryland’s Heart of the Civil War,” a documentary about the Civil War history of Frederick, Carroll and Washington Counties, according to the film’s website.
“You’re watching something that you know,” her father, Tim, said, “and someone in California [who is watching the same movie] is saying ‘Where is Middletown?’”
It’s because battlefields in Western Maryland like Monocacy “don’t have the notoriety of Antietam or Gettysburg,” said Brian Coblentz, on the board of directors of the Monocacy National Battlefield Foundation.
“But we’re just as important.”