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Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Isaac Bezzand, a fifth-grader at Central Elementary School in Pleasant Grove, has fun while re-enacting the Civil War's Battle of Gettysburg Thursday.

PLEASANT GROVE — As his young troops die around him, Gen. George Pickett — otherwise known as fifth-grade teacher Mark Hayes — hopes they really feel the impact of marshmallow bullets and tennis-ball cannons.

He hopes they understand the real-life history they're reliving as they take up arms, dress in Union blue and Confederate gray and re-enact the Civil War's Battle of Gettysburg.

"I always hope as a teacher that their comments at the end of this show some comprehension as to what really happened," said Hayes.

This is the sixth year Hayes and the other fifth-grade teachers at Central Elementary have culminated their study of the Civil War era with a dramatic three-day re-enactment of the horrific and costly battle on the school's playground.

The students choose a name of an actual person, learn about their character, make weapons, learn battle strategy and history and come together in the spring to play out the events of those critical days in July 1863.

They come to school dressed in uniform with ammo bags, plenty of candy bullets and ready to die, several times if necessary.

"We're all prepared to die, yeah!" said Jason Golling. "I think there's a good chance an incoming cannonball could hit us."

Chelsea Woten said there's no safety in being a female soldier as several women were found among the dead soldiers in the actual battle.

Lexia Richards said everyone on the Confederate cannon crew would take turns firing or, in this case, pulling back the big slingshot to hurl a tennis ball several hundred feet.

"This is the Tennis Ball 3000," said Jacob Vanwave. It didn't shoot grapeshot cannonballs, but nevertheless, each powerful volley dropped dozens of troops.

Cannonballs felled troops on both sides. Marshmallow bullets litter the field. Injuries are many and the casualty count is high.

The kids can goof around a bit and even come back to life more than once — especially if they've been tended to by the field medics who carry bandages and flasks of "whiskey" — but they can't change the script's ending.

The Union soldiers win and the Confederacy loses the battle — and the war — after Gen. Robert E. Lee makes a couple of critical mistakes and tries to split the Union lines at the top of Culp's Hill.

How does that feel?

"Good!" said Bryan Ortiz for the North. "We had good generals."

"The best part (of this) was winning," said Lucia Ayala.

"It's pretty sad (for the Confederates)," said Cameron Debuck. "We probably lost because we had to cross that big, open field."

"We fed the soldiers and watched," said Megan Lovell, who plays the part of Georgia Wade along with Cassidy Lucas, who plays her mother, and Sydnee Woffinden, who plays Virginia Wade, the only civilian killed in the battle.

A new wrinkle this year included the police showing up after a resident new to the area noticed the fifth-graders carrying PVC-pipe rifles to school and panicked.

"One of the kids had used the end of a real rifle for his gun," said principal Vicky Carter. "A resident called the police and we actually did put the school in lockdown until we could identify what was really going on."

Carter said the student was asked to change the makeup of his rifle and the police have since been alerted on the days the students bring in their rifle replicas.


E-mail: haddoc@desnews.com