Battle-Ready Campers

From ‘Teeth Dullers’ To Infantry Drills, Museum Gives Kids Taste Of Civil War

Posted: July 13, 2013

Children conduct a drill during the Civil War junior day camp on Friday at the Virginia Museum of the Civil War at the New Market Battlefield State Historical Park in New Market. (Photos by Nikki Fox / DN-R
Camper Sam Clark, 11, of Mount Jackson, recites the 19th century Virginia Military Institute Cadet Oath at the camp. VMI cadets fought at the Battle of New Market.
NEW MARKET — “What was your favorite part about camp this week?” asked Stacey Nadeau, addressing a group of 7- to 12-year-olds at the Virginia Museum of the Civil War on Friday.


“What was the best snack we had?”

“Hardtack!” was the resounding response.

“Seriously? We had ice cream on Wednesday,” said Nadeau, supervisor of historical interpretation at the museum. Nadeau runs the Civil War day camp, which is held on the grounds of the New Market Battlefield State Historical Park, where the museum is located.

She said later that hardtack always seems to be a favorite among the young campers. The kids sample a different historical snack each day of the weeklong camp, which aims to give them a taste of life during the Civil War era.

Hardtack is a simple, hard, crackerlike food made of only flour, water and salt. Soldiers frequently ate it during the war since it was inexpensive and would last a long time. Nicknames for the snack included teeth-dullers and sheet iron.

“I’m not sure why [they like it],” said Nadeau, noting that it could be excitement for re-creating something from history. “I don’t eat it.”

Besides snacks, the junior campers take part in a number of activities during their week at the museum. As soldiers, they tour battlefields and learn artillery, cavalry and infantry drills, play games and other activities and learn about the Battle of New Market. On “civilian day,” they do farm chores, crafts and games.

“We impact them when they are young and they get excited about the history,” Nadeau said. “Then they grow up and they come back. It’s creating a community.”

Most campers return to the day camp year after year, which Nadeau called “the biggest measure of success.” Some, like this year’s counselors, Eric Arnesen, 17, and Caleb Coffelt, 14, find a way to come back even after they age out.

“I’ve learned a lot just being here for the camps each year,” said Caleb, who has attended since he was about 7.

Friday was the last day for the junior day camps this summer, but registration is still open for the senior day camps that start July 22.

The senior camps are geared toward boys 13 to 17 years of age. Nadeau said they’ve never had interest from girls for the senior camp, but that they’d be open to accepting them if they applied.

Senior campers go on battlefield hikes each of the three days and delve deeper into the battle stories and strategy.

Cost for the camp is $75, which includes all food and equipment. Deadline for registration is July 19.
To register, call 866-515-1864.

Contact Kaitlin Mayhew at 574-6290 or

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