Metro-East Living

‘I am Robert E. Lee’: St. Teresa second-graders bring Civil War to life

Abe Lincoln was there.

So were Robert E. Lee, Clara Barton, George Custer, Harriet Tubman and Rose O’Neal Greenhow.

Don’t remember Rose?

She was a colorful Confederate spy, so interesting that two St. Teresa second-graders — Edie Hough and Jessie Lynn — chose to portray her during their Civil War Living Museum in the school gym on a Friday afternoon.

Here’s a little of Jessie Lynn’s speech about Rose.

“I was born in 1813 or 14; no one knows for sure,” said the dark-haired 7-year-old, dressed in a green gown trimmed with big gold bows. “When I grew up, I got married. When he died, I became a Confederate spy. I was captured and kept in my own home. When I was set free, I sailed to England. I continued to be a spy for the South. In 1864, my ship ran aground. I drowned because of all the gold I had.”

With a flourish, Jessie lifted her skirt to reveal plastic bags of gold that led to her demise.

As word got around, grade-schoolers called out, “Where’s your gold?” A mom leaned in to give her a high-five.

Each student stood in front of a good-sized homemade backdrop and behind a theater-style velvet rope, poised to bring a character to life.

“I am Robert E. Lee,” said Aidan Alvarez who used a molded horse figure as a prop and a place to tape his speech about the leader of the Confederate Army.

“I want to hear your speech,” said a visitor.

“You have to press the button,” he said.

It was an imaginary button, but it worked.

“I was born on January 19, 1807. .... My family was very poor. When I was 18, I went to a military school ... The Civil War broke out. I didn’t believe in slavery, but I didn’t want to fight against my own state — Virginia . ...”

The project was a huge undertaking. Behind fancy dresses, soldier uniforms, stovepipe hats and bushy thick sideburns, second-graders beamed with enthusiasm. It all began when they studied the Civil War.

“A group of kids were really into it,” said teacher Julie Massie. “They asked if we could do a book report. I said, ‘Well, I’m thinking we could do something more fun than that.’ I told then we did this with sixth-graders on World War II. ‘Do you think you can take the challenge?’ ‘Oh, yeah.’”

They researched Civil War figures in social studies and computer class, wrote speeches in writing class and worked on backdrops in art class.

“They went home and talked about it with their parents,” said Julie. “Sometimes, they came back and found someone we didn’t talk about. ... It’s just nice to bring social studies and history to life, to see what it would have been like in that time.”

Isaac Riesenberger wore a stovepipe hat and a bushy black beard. No mistaking who he was.

“I lived in a log cabin when I was a kid,” Isaac said. “I was 6-foot-4. I became a lawyer. ...”

Mom Amy Riesenberger, of Swansea, proudly watched her son recite.

“He came home and said he wanted to be Abe Lincoln,” she said. “We visited the Lincoln museum (in Springfield) the Monday we were off school. He really got into it then. He was feeling he was Abe.”

Charlie Lohmann was George Custer: “I just wanted to be a union soldier,” he said.

Navy shirt and pants, gold buttons, a red tie and a 10-gallon hat turned him into a proud soldier.

“My mom came up with it,” he said of the costume.

“They ordered the pants online,” said Grandma Ruth Lohmann. “They were short.”

That’s where Mom’s boots came in handy.

“The boots covered up the short pants, and completed the outfit.”

What about his moustache?

“No, I didn’t grow it,” said Charlie. “It’s sticky on the back side.”

Something interesting he learned about Custer?

“That he became a general at the age of 23. That was very young to be a general.”

Tommy Cook was Joseph Hooker, a major general in the Union Army, because “I saw him in a book and I liked him. He was born in 1814 to a poor family. When he was 17, he went to West Point. He campaigned against Robert E. Lee. ...”

Olivia Massie was surgeon Mary Walker. “We helped soldiers if they were hurt.” It took Olivia two weeks to create her backdrop, with a tent design. For her portrayal, she lay on a stuffed bear in front of the tent.

“The bear is supposed to be a soldier I am helping.”

Clare Nash, 8, became nurse Clara Barton “because my name is Clare.”

What do you know about her? “That she was a doctor and founded the American Red Cross. She liked to help animals before she became a doctor.”

Alex Andrea Lauf, 7, had fun taking on the role of Susan B. Anthony, who learned to read at age 3, and worked for women’s rights and the Underground Railroad.

“I thought she was pretty,” said Alex. “She was so famous that her head was on a coin.”

Along with parents and grandparents, each grade got a chance to walk along, look and listen.

Sixth-grader Kaden Bouse was into it.

“I think it’s really cool,” he said. “I like the costumes and how they learned their lines. I bet they had to practice their lines a lot.”

Mariah Creamer went through a dozen black crayons creating a star-studded nighttime backdrop for her character, Harriet Tubman.

“I was born in 1822. I am famous for my work on the Underground Railroad,” said the petite 8-year-old, wearing a long lace-trimmed black gown. “There’s a girl named Brooke and her grandmother made this dress for me.”

Mariah had a good reason for chosing Harriet.

“Because I was so interested in her. She was a really nice person. I liked her, and she had a sister named Mariah.”

Grandma Linda Noblitt helped Lily Suhl turn into Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

“This dress used to be my aunt’s,” said Lily from beneath a wide-brimmed hat.

Mom Channing rated the project “great.”

“I was amazed how much she was able to memorize and how enthusiastic she was about it.”

And Lily was impressed by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

“She was pretty interesting. She lived to be 85.”