By Ryan Cornell
NEW MARKET -- Hundreds of homeschooled children and their families packed the New Market Battlefield State Historical Park on Saturday to get a hands-on history lesson in Civil War life.
Visitors learned military drill, the Virginia Reel, 19th century games and crafts and were led on guided battlefield tours at the park's seventh annual Homeschool Day.
According to Stacey Nadeau, supervisor of historical interpretation at the park, families came from five states for the event.
"It's just the whole gamut of what it's like to be a soldier," she said.
A Confederate encampment guided visitors through the steps of enlistment and combat.
Ben Miller, 17, of New Market, is a student at Stonewall Jackson High who regularly reenacts in the 10th Virginia Infantry.
He was teaching basic drill and rifle-handling maneuvers to kids and their families on Saturday.
"If they signed up in 1861 and 1862 [when most soldiers enlisted], this is what they would be experiencing, what they would be eating, where they would be sleeping," he said.
He said regulations required soldiers to be older than 18, but "there were ways of getting around it."
"Whenever someone 16 or 17 wanted to join, he would take a recruiting poster, write '18' on it and put it in his shoe," he said. "So technically, he was 'over 18.' Technically, he wouldn't be lying."
Homeschool Day offered a special discounted admission of $3 per person. The reduced price was to make it available to homeschooling families, Nadeau said, who are frequently single-income and tend to be larger than the average family.
"That's an untapped market," she said about homeschooling families. "We do school groups all the time. Kids are coming with their elementary schools and we wanted to showcase that as much as we do in the standard classroom-type format here."
The park is gearing up for the sesquicentennial reenactment of the Battle of New Market, with four days of activities starting May 15.
Nadeau said the park will offer an "on the spot at this moment" real-time tour highlighting the climax of the May 15, 1864, battle.
"And you will be standing where it's happening, 150 years to the hour of when it happened," she said.
She said the actual reenactment of the battle will start May 16.
Miller, who will be a member of the Virginia Military Institute Cadet Battalion in the reenactment, said he started coming to the kid's camps at the battlefield when he was younger.
"This is where I hung out as a kid," he said. "It's a great way for kids to get into history."
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org