- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 14, 2002

Youngsters got a firsthand look yesterday at a soldier's life in the Civil War during the 138th anniversary of the Battle of Fort Stevens at Rock Creek Park Nature Center & Planetarium.
Alex Phillips, 7, proved the perfect soldier by keeping a stiff upper lip as he stepped into a man-sized pair of Union Blue britches and a jacket. Alex topped off his uniform with a kepi cap with two crossed rifles indicating that he was a member of the infantry.
The youngster who volunteered to pose as a soldier had no idea that Civil War infantrymen had so much to haul around.
Ron Harvey Jr., a ranger for the National Park Service, explained to the group of pint-sized people who gathered outside of the Rock Creek Park Nature Center to travel back in time, when soldiers not only had to wear wool uniforms even in sweltering temperatures but they also had to carry other essentials, such as a haversack a bag that contained a plate, a fork, a spoon and a tin cup.
"What about food? What did the soldiers eat?" Ranger Harvey asked.
One youngster guessed pizza, but a nice slice of pizza with all the toppings wasn't around back then. Instead, Ranger Harvey pulled out a piece of hardtack, an extremely hard biscuit that was the most familiar food for soldiers on the march.
The group looked at the square biscuit as if to say, "You've got to be kidding."
"Hardtack was a staple of a Union soldier's diet," Ranger Harvey said. They also ate beef jerky, dried meat that in some instances wasn't the most appetizing.
"Before soldiers were issued a rifle, they got a shovel because they had to [dig trenches] and build forts," he said.
Finally, Alex was issued his rifle, a belt and a cartridge box for his ammunition and other gear. By this time, Alex was weighed down quite heavily, but he never even mumbled a complaint.
After he stepped out of his Union Blues, Alex simply said he enjoyed the experience of being a Union soldier.
Ranger Harvey, 33, a Civil War buff, brought the era to life for the children by getting them involved in the battle with the costumes, the props and his animated gestures and facial expressions. But the National Park Service does not glorify war, he said.
"I hope to teach them to appreciate the sacrifices people made [during the war] and hope that they never have to pick up a gun," he said.
Throughout the day, park rangers gave tours of Fort DeRussy, Fort Stevens and the Battleground Cemetery, where Confederate Gen. Jubal Earley launched a bold attack against Washington's defenses in 1864. It was the only time during the entire Civil War that the Confederate forces attacked the forts protecting nation's capital.
"When people think of the Civil War, [they think] Manassas and Gettysburg. [Besides] those, there were smaller battles that were just as important," Ranger Harvey said of the Battle of Fort Stevens.
During the early afternoon, a group of youngsters and adults gathered behind the Rock Creek Park Nature Center for a cannon demonstration. For 30 minutes, visitors became artillery members in the Union Army, learning how to set up and fire the bulky artillery pieces used during the Civil War.
Using a replica of a 12-pound Napoleon-style cannon, Ranger Harvey showed the group attired in Union caps how to load the cannon.
"Each man must work in unison," Ranger Harvey said.
Jim Tolson, who lives in Ashburn, Va., but grew up in Silver Spring, got a kick out of the exercise.
"This is cool and a pleasant surprise," he said. He had come to see a planetarium show and ended up defending Washington.


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