Dressed in his best Confederate gray uniform, Brett McGohan was the guest speaker to students at Eastside Elementary School at the invitation of their teachers, Rebecca May and Emily Ann Thomason.
McGohan is a member of Company E, Champagnole Guards of the Third Arkansas Infantry of Volunteers. He has been doing reenacting of Civil War battles since age 15 and has re-enacted battles at Prairie Grove, Shiloh, Franklin, Antietam and Gettysburg. His wealth of knowledge and tools and relics of the Civil War kept about 100 fifth grade students fascinated for more than an hour.
Students have been studying the Civil War for the past 11 weeks and will hold a debate soon. Many of their questions were directed toward finding answers for their upcoming debates.
McGohan did not disappoint. He spoke of the reason for the war — not slavery as most people think, but preserving the Union. It wasn’t until more than two years after the war started that slavery became a real issue. He explained Arkansas’ reason for joining the war on the side of the Confederacy, pointing out that Arkansas did not vote to secede on the first ballot.
It wasn’t until the second vote for secession that Arkansas voted yes because they did not want to submit troops and become a part of a central government out of Richmond, Va. Instead they raised 30,000 men for an army of Arkansas, not the Confederacy, to protect their borders.
Besides his gray regulation uniform, McGohan brought many authentic articles to show the youngsters. He pointed out that the gray uniform became a rarity because it was dyed, and the dying of Southern uniforms became scarce. The Confederacy did not have the factories for dying like the North did, so many Confederate soldiers were known as "butternuts" because of the color of the natural material.
The story of Bowie knives, originally made in southern Arkansas, intrigued the students because it had to do with why Arkansans were called razorbacks. Confederate soldiers carried their Bowie knives on their backs.
McGohan has been interested in Civil War history since he traced his heritage back to his grandfather who fought in the Civil War. He said, "I feel like I am keeping history alive in doing reenactments."
He brought a real Confederate rifle and demonstrated the many ways to hold the gun, depending on whether or not they were in actual battle. He spoke of the many hardships of that kind of war and showed a raggedy blanket, canteen and knapsack like each solder carried. Rations consisted of soup, coffee and hardtack. He said, "Sometimes the hardtack was so hard it had to soak in bacon grease or coffee in order to eat it."
On Jan. 31 the classes will debate such things as Harriet Tubman vs. Tate Plantation Owner, General Lee vs. General Grant, President Lincoln vs. President Davis and Arkansas citizens wanting secession vs. Arkansas citizens not secession. Bringing the Civil War alive by seeing real items from this war and listening to McGohan made this course very interesting for these students.
McGohan is the youth/associate minister at the Greenbrier Church of Christ and has a collection of more than 100 books about the Civil War. He lives with his wife and small son in Greenbrier.