The Journal
Friday, May 26, 2006

Students recreate historic area battle

By DIANA BELL/Journal Staff Writer

SPRING MILLS - Larry Caskey called the Battle of Falling Waters project he's worked on with Spring Mills Middle School eighth-graders the most unique and rewarding effort of his 30 years in education.

"There has been a tremendous amount of excitement," Caskey said while getting things ready for a Thursday night open house. The more involved the project became and the more interested students became, social studies teacher Caskey said he was just "blown away."

The project examining the American Civil War in West Virginia began at the beginning of the year, with students painting nearly 200 Civil War soldiers throughout the school year. The soldiers are about 2 inches tall and have been painted using authentic Confederate and Union uniform patterns and colors.

They will be used to recreate the battle on a 7-foot-by-15-foot surface, which includes buildings, trees, hills and roads. The map includes signs depicting what now exists on those grounds, including the school, Barney's Restaurant, the Porterfield house, U.S. 11 and W.Va. 901.

"Everybody's reaction is the same, 'wow!'" he said of seeing the soldiers and other recreated elements. Caskey has also been wowed by the job students have done.

The detailed paint job on the green plastic soldiers glued to painted poker chips is astounding. Fence posts and a scale house and barn also dot the landscape of the battlefield site. Caskey said that part of the project wouldn't have been possible without art teacher and co-coordinator Kim Herman.

"A lot of people have had a hand in this," Caskey said.

Caskey, himself a Vietnam and Gulf War veteran, has also worked with the school's nearly 200 eighth-graders on the rules of wargaming. Gary Gimbel, a local author and historian, has joined Caskey in teaching students about the battle. A lengthy article on the battle, "The End of Innocence," was recently featured in Blue and Gray Magazine.

Gimbel, a Texas native, first became interested in the battle after passing a monument on U.S. 11 every day. He had trouble finding out about the monument and the Battle of Falling Waters, which marked the first cannon shot and one of the first battles in the Shenandoah Valley, so he did his own research. Already interested in the Civil War, he said his search for information "expanded" that interest.

He hopes the project raises the awareness of the battle, of preservation of battlefield sites and students' interest in history. Gimble said he is "anxious" to see the gaming, which he said was one of the ultimate goals of the projects.

Caskey has a hobby of painting miniature soldiers and using them in gaming. Until now he said he never had a good enough excuse to combine those two passions.

Once he learned of Gimbel's work, which was unique in that it mentions West Virginia's and the Eastern Panhandle's involvement in the Civil War, Caskey said, "I have to teach this."

Although the 35-minute battle took place 144 years ago, the project is especially relevant to the students because the school sits on the battlefield site, which is located just east of the intersection of U.S. 11 and WVa. 901 north of Martinsburg. According to Gimbel, soldier George Roup was shot in the thigh and later bled to death on what is now the school grounds. He was buried in Shepherdstown.

The project has kept the students' attention, even those students who are not normally "turned on to learning," Caskey said. They have shown "rapt" attention to Gimbel, he added.

Ronnie Dilbert, 15, said his favorite part of the project was painting the miniature figures. "I think it helps us understand a lot more," he added.

Classmate Holly Brown, 14, agreed. "I think that it helped us know more about this area and the history of it," she said.

Brown also enjoyed painting the soldiers.

The only thing students are unclear on is why the school was built on a Civil War battlefield site.

- Staff writer Diana Bell can be reached at 263-3381, ext. 127, or





From I-81 take Spring Mills Exit 20, then proceed West on Hammonds Mill Road (WV 901).  T.J. Jackson Drive is the first road on the left (south side) approximately 300 yards west of I-81.  The library is on the corner, next to, but set back from the CNB Bank, across the street from the Shell Gas Station & Convenience Store.  Library Phone Number: (304) 274-3443.