Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Civil War letters let students experience history
|Paula Peck shows the original Civil War letters from her great-great-great gradfather, Seth Streeter, to students at Lee Elementary. Photo courtesy of Linda Hamilton|
By Rebecca Wyatt Thomas, OU Web Writer
While Seth Streeter served in the war, he frequently sent letters home to his wife and his children. They documented his journey, discussed money and relayed his desire to be at home with his family. Streeter served in the Civil War. His letters are made available through Civil War Letters: A Michigan Connection, a project designed by Dyanne Tracy, professor and chair in the Department of Teacher Development and Educational Studies in the School of Education and Human Services, and Paula Peck, an office assistant in SEHS. A group of students from Lee Elementary in Richmond, Mich., invited Tracy and Peck to their classroom to see what they have learned from the letters.
Peck is the great-great-great-granddaughter of Streeter and had been storing the letters which had been passed down through the generations. A few years ago, she wanted to donate them and went to Tracy for advice.
“I asked if I could read them sometime. When I did, I was struck with awe knowing that a real man from Michigan had written the letters, a man who gave his life for the cause of freedom; a farming man who had a chance to earn some cash for his family and should he die, leave them a pension; a man who did not use any punctuation in 40 letters and whose spelling was marginal; a man who was killed in ten months time. I was struck by the fact that exactly three stewards of the letters treasured them so much that they survived floods, mold, fires and paper-eating beetles or wasps,” Tracy said.
Tracy began to formulate ideas about how this collection of personal thoughts and experiences could be made available to children studying the Civil War.
Last year, Linda Hamilton, a fourth grade teacher at Lee Elementary School, decided to use the program in her classroom. After a successful first year, she decided to use it again this year. While the project is designed for computers with Internet access, Hamilton’s classroom only has one computer so she printed a letter for each child and they were responsible for transcribing it. In addition, she gave them information about the Civil War, pictures to color, census information and other material to bring the Civil War to life in her classroom.
“I think it was really interesting. He talked to his wife and he told her what he did in the war. He wrote her a letter in the morning and fought in the afternoon,” said student James Goike, of the letters he read.
The earliest letter was dated Dec. 13, 1862. Each provided information about the war, but also what was going on in the country. For example, student Cameron Sterling’s letter said Streeter paid 10 cents for a quart of milk. Streeter also wrote about doing the other soldiers laundry for two shillings so he could pay for his tobacco.
“You actually get a point of view from someone who was in the Civil War,” said student Philip Weber.
The children had learned about primary sources and knew Streeter was a primary source for the Civil War.
“This project gave each student their own little piece of history to work on,” said Hamilton. “It’s important to engage students in activities like this because these children are the feeder program of historians of the future.”
Peck brought the original letters for the students to look at. She also brought a Civil War bullet, much like the one that killed Streeter. Tracy spent time talking to the students about Civil War facts.
The children are some of 1,000 students in the state of Michigan who have participated in the program.
“Neither Paula nor I have children of our own. This project helps leave a legacy, a documented act that we gave to the children something that they may not have ever had an opportunity to do had we not worked together,” Tracy said.
For more information on the project, visit the Civil War letters project Web site.