San Benito Lifestyle

Students learn about Civil War from historians

Living historians bring the Civil War to life for nearly 300 students, leading off three-day Civil War Days at San Benito County Historical and Recreational Park

The roar of an ancient cannon, the clip-clop pounding of horses pulling a creaking wagon, along with the laughter and chatter of nearly 300 children signaled the opening of Civil War Days at San Benito County Historical and Recreational Park, just south of Tres Pinos on Airline Highway.

Friday was school day as children from nine schools and home schools came to stare in awe at magnificent black horses as they stood by the kind of wagon they may have only seen in western movies, and to listen to men and women dressed in period clothing who would bring classroom lessons about the Civil War to life.

All—including some of their teachers—would go away with an understanding of the war that tore the nation apart under economic circumstances not too dissimilar to what is causing strife today, according to some of the re-enactors.

Enoy Guevara, who teaches at Temple Philadelphia Christian Academy in Salinas,  said she brought students who ranged in age from the second grade to seniors.

“We’re here to get an eye-witness view of what happened during the Civil War,” she said. “They’re excited to see some action and to see some soldiers. The horses are exciting for them. The whole experience is exciting.”

Guevara said the students have been taught about the Civil War, to a degree, in social studies.

“Now they’re going to be able to sort of touch it and feel it here,” she said. “I think what they’ve read and what they will be reading this year is going to come alive for them. It’s not just going to be ink on paper.”

Guevera said slavery was one of the major issues that divided the country and brought on the Civil War. Jay Johnson, from Livermore, an oceanographer by day and a blockade runner on weekends who describes himself as a living historian, said most people’s first response to what caused the Civil War is, indeed, slavery. He said the cause of the Civil War actually had little to do with slavery.

“The real reason was who controlled the cotton,” he said. “It’s all about economics, or in this case who controls the source of labor. If it was really about slavery, I think that the people in New York should have been upset about the kids, 10 to 14, who were working for 10 cents a day for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Is that not slavery?”

Johnson has been volunteering his time as a living historian for 15 years.

“I am a blockade runner by the name of Captain Johnson, and the owner and master of my own ship out of St. George, in the Bahamas," he said in character. "We bring in goods for the South. I’m demonstrating (for the kids) what we smart blockaders brought into the country, luxury goods, things that people needed, patented medicines, fine wines from Germany, Italy and Spain.”

He said he knew very little about the Civil War before becoming involved with other historians.

“It’s a fascinating period of time,” he said. “Some of the things I tell the kids is that the South was destroyed economically by the end of the war. They did not recover economically until 1937, with the New Deal and after FDR (President Franklin D. Roosevelt) finally reached the point where his cabinet convinced him that he had to put money into the South in order to bring up their economy. Close to 100 years we were fighting the war. We’re still fighting it today.”

Johnson said the National Civil War Association (NCWA), of which he is a member, is a nonprofit that provides living history lessons. It has a school outreach program that the volunteers do presentations at the schools. His particular presentation, he said, can be delivered to students from the second grade through high school.

Scott Spence, president of the NCWA, said he has been participating in Civil War reenactments for the past three years because the Civil War is one of the most important events in American history.

“It actually created the country that we live in,” he said. “It altered the U.S. Constitution with the anti-slavery amendments, the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. It changed the country that we live in and in order to understand the United States people need to understand the Civil War, its causes and effects.”

Spence said that whenever there is a weekend-long event, the association holds a school day on Fridays.

“We set up groups (of kids) and stations (re-enactors/historians) and then the students work their way through stations,” he said. “We’ll have a station on artillery, on horses, and on infantry. We also have stations about civilian life, about medicine, and, hopefully, they learn something and have their eyes opened.”

Over the weekend, there will be two battle re-enactments and a flag-raising ceremony.

“Also, one of our members will be giving a speech in English and Spanish,” Spence said. “It’s the recruiting speech that was presented in San Jose in 1863 that led to a primarily Spanish-speaking cavalry unit. Sunday morning there will be a church call at 8:30 a.m. It will be a period-style church service. The public is invited to attend. Also Sunday, we’ll have a rounder’s game, which is a bat-and-ball game, the precursor to baseball.”

Spence also said that there will be a dance Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the old dance hall. He said the public is invited and encouraged to wear period-appropriate clothing, but it is not required.

This weekend’s schedule is:


Event Opens                        9 a.m.

Morning Parade                10 a.m.

Flag Raising                      10:30 a.m. School House

Battle                                 11:00 a.m.

Speech                             11:45 a.m. School House

Clothing Demo                  Noon Civilian Town

Camps Close                    12:30 p.m.

Firing Demo                       1 p.m. Battlefield

Camps Close                      2:30 p.m.

Battle                                   3 p.m.

Flag                                      4 p.m. School House

Event Closes                          5 p.m.

Dance                                   7:30 to 10 p.m.


Church Call                          8:30 a.m. Public Invited

Event Opens                        9 a.m.

Morning Parade                  10 a.m.

Flag Raising                        10:30 a.m. School House

Speech                               10:45 a.m. School House

Battle                                  11 a.m.

Rounder Game                   11:45 a.m.

Pot Luck Picnic                   12:30 p.m.

Camps Close                        1:30 p.m.

Battle                                     2 p.m.

Flag                                       3 p.m.

Event Closes                          3:30 p.m.

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]