Photo by Michael Buckelew
COVINGTON -- Cousins Middle School students got a history lesson from an unexpected source this week -- their math teacher.
Dressed in Confederate attire, Peter Howdeshell, an eighth-grade math teacher at Cousins, told students stories about historic events and presented to them historic artifacts and replicas from the Civil War era that he has collected since he became a Civil War re-enactor.
"Many students are interested in the military aspect of that era," Howdeshell said. "They like to know about the guns and how they worked. They want to know how Lee's smaller army beat the Union so much at the beginning of the war. They all want to know a little bit about the world that was, even if they don't like social studies very much."
This is the first time he has had the chance to share his knowledge about Civil War history with students since he began teaching about three years ago.
"I think it's important (to share such information) so that things don't get forgotten," he said. "It's important to know why the Civil War happened, even if there's little chance of it happening again. For my students, it's showing them how people lived back then to help them put modern times into perspective."
Howdeshell has been a part of re-enacting the Civil War with several groups since 1995, when he was living in Florida and his father became involved in the hobby.
"The thing that interests me most about the Civil War is how far-reaching it is," he said. "I've always loved history ... but the events of the war still affect this country today, both positively and negatively."
He portrayed the role of a private in the Confederate Artillery until 2006, when his unit began re-enacting World War II.
"What exactly I did depended on the specific assignment I had," he said about his time re-enacting in Florida. "Most times I worked on the cannon our unit used, an original artillery piece made in 1863. Some days I was in charge of loading, some days I was in charge of ramming the round into the cannon. Other days I was in charge of priming it, and sometimes I was the one who fired the piece."
He said re-enacting is like teaching.
"Both are a way of educating people," he said. "Teaching is direct, and re-enacting is indirect. When I re-enact and people come to watch the battle, often they are learning things about the Civil War that they didn't know and about their local histories that might spark an interest."
Since moving to Georgia a few years ago, he hasn't yet found a group to join for Civil War re-enactments but he hopes to get involved again soon.