From weaponry to quilt squares, area youths learn about life in the Civil War at Spotsylvania day camp.

The new recruits lined up, and one by one each private marched up for a rifle.

Decked in Confederate gray caps, hooded sweatshirts and sneakers, the soldiers seemed unsure of how to hold their weapons fashioned out of wood.

The last private eagerly took hold of the rifle, although it towered over his head.

Josh Fissel, a first-grader at Smith Station Elementary, was one of 24 children who learned about the War Between the States yesterday at Spotsylvania County‘s first Civil War Kids Camp.

The one-day event happened on the final day of Spotsylvania schools’ spring break, and took place on the edge of the Chancellorsville battlefield at the county’s Lick Run Community Center.

Costumed re-enactors led the students through stations focusing on various aspects of life during the war: marching, loading a weapon, setting up camp, sewing, taking care of the sick, spying, helping to free slaves and playing marbles.

“One of our goals is to try to get a broader understanding and renewed interest in the history of our area,” said Eric Powell, a re-enactor with the 47th Virginia, Company I and the coordinator of social studies for Stafford County public schools.

Most area schools spend a few weeks each year teaching the Civil War, he said. But yesterday, Powell helped students do more than memorize some key dates and read history books.

“They’re learning without even knowing it,” said Debbie Aylor, visitor center supervisor for Spotsylvania.

She planned the camp as a kickoff to the county’s sesquicentennial commemorations.

Spotsylvania was the site of four major Civil War battles, and the county plans to mark the 150th anniversary of the war with numerous events.

Aylor has been passionate about Spotsylvania’s history since growing up “in the middle of a battlefield.”

As a child, Aylor rode her bike over the historic ground and would relive Stonewall Jackson’s famed flank attack in the very woods where it occurred in May 1863.

Her grandmother, a schoolteacher, would say, “You need to know your history, know where you came from.”

And that motto framed the camp.

The youths came to the camp with varying knowledge about the Civil War. Some were eager to attend; others had to be prodded.

James Adams, a second-grader at Smith Station, said, “My mom forced me to come.”

But 9-year-old Will Hight asked to go. “Me and my brother are kind of Civil War fanatics.”

The Hight brothers weren’t the only young Civil War buffs. Michael Gilchrist, a seventh-grader at Thornburg Middle School, came in his own period garb. He and his family participate in re-enactments, and Michael came to camp with a lot of Civil War knowledge.

“But some things I was surprised to hear,” he said.

He was especially intrigued to learn that abolitionists used quilt patterns as signals for the Underground Railroad.

While some campers shrugged and said they didn’t know much about the cause of the war, 7-year-old Bryce Daltan said, “The Civil War is about slavery and freeing the slaves, but they still fought after slavery was abolished.”

Amy Flowers Umble: 540/735-1973

The Civil War Camp for Kids kicked off upcoming sesquicentennial commemorations. A major re-enactment will be held May 21-22 at Spotsylvania Courthouse. Most events will take place in Courthouse Village. For details, call 540/507-7094 or visit spotsylvania .org/2011.htm. Advance tickets are needed for events that Saturday night, and space is limited.

Even if you missed the camp, you can still help your kids learn more about the Civil War. Here are some tips for sharing that history with your children:

Ask them their feelings, but also share yours. Slavery is a difficult issue for kids to understand, and war can be disturbing. But talking about the issues is important.

Don’t just visit a battlefield–before you go, read books and study the battle. While there, look for historical markers and exhibits, and ask questions of any volunteers or park rangers.

Complete the National Park Service’s Junior Ranger program.

Try to visit a battlefield during the same time of year that the battle was fought.

Attend re-enactments or living-history events.