DANVILLE — Bev Marsh hated history when she was in school.
“Our history classes were nothing but rote memorization,” the Columbus resident said. “I never had a teacher who put any fun into it until I was in college.”
Yet there she was, in period clothing, preparing food and sewing clothes using a machine dating back to the 1860s. Marsh was with her husband, Mike, participating in last weekend’s Civil War Heritage Days in downtown Danville.
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Organized by the Danville Public Library and the Hendricks County Historical Museum, the two-day event included everything from encampments and portrayals of historical figures to displays of Civil War-era items, including a fashion show.
“We’re thrilled,” said Gail Tharp, collection manager for the Hendricks County Historical Museum and one of the festival organizers. “It’s going well. There are more people here than you may realize because it’s so spread out.”
Company D of the 11th Indiana Zouaves and Company C of the 27th Indiana Infantry camped on the grounds of the county museum, where Marsh was set up. The 7th Indiana Calvary and the Armies of Tennessee stayed on the grounds of the Hendricks County Government Center.
The courthouse square featured an antique tool display, fashion show in the rotunda, and Civil War-era music performed by area musicians. The library housed an antique quilt display and documents dating back to the Civil War.
It was all an effort to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the war’s start. Plainfield’s Terry Fishel, a re-enactor with the 12th Indiana Company E, which formed in Mooresville and included many soldiers from Hendricks County during the war, plans to stay busy over the next five years.
“Every year from now through 2016 will feature major campaigns both out east and out west,” Fishel said. “And I plan on going to all of them. Then I’m going to hang it up.”
He’s participated in Civil War re-enactments for 12 years now.
“When I was in school, I always loved American history,” Fishel said. “The Civil War, in particular, always fascinated me. It was the nation tearing itself apart, basically.”
R.J. Hagee of Mooresville, also a member of the 12th Indiana Company E, has been involved for four years now.
“We try to immerse ourselves in this and teach others about the history,” he said.
They have their work cut out for them. Both Hagee and Fishel have encountered many young people who know next to nothing about the Civil War. Hagee said he’s been asked if he was in the war. Fishel’s been asked who won it.
“I said, ‘See that flag over there, the one with the stars and stripes on it? That’s who won,’” he said.
Part of the problem is that Civil War history is barely taught in school anymore.
“Indiana, in its infinite wisdom, took Civil War education out of the fifth-grade classroom,” said Marsh, who works as a substitute teacher and has a son who teaches history. “Some fourth-grade teachers will touch on it as part of Indiana history.”
Most American history curriculums now start after the Civil War.
“There’s this whole section of history that’s really not taught,” said Marsh, who credits her family for getting her engaged in this era.
That’s too bad, Hagee says, because that event defined so much of what this country is now.
“Whatever your feelings are on all the different issues — like North vs. South — we came out of it as one stronger country,” he said. “We were kind of a backwater power compared to the rest of the world. After the Civil War, we had the largest army on earth. So much of our history has been affected by it.”