By Elizabeth Goussetis
Who says kids today are not interested in history?
Derek Hinkle’s fifth grade class at Waggoner Road Middle School rallied support and funds to repair a Civil War monument in Tennessee and now have seen it in person. The students made it to the May 17 dedication ceremony just in time for Memorial Day.
The students spent the school year raising $5,300 to repair the monument, which honors the 98th Ohio Volunteer Infantry that fought in the battle of Chickamauga and later helped seize Missionary Ridge near Chattanooga. The monument’s four sides feature life-sized figures honoring the artillery, the infantry, the cavalry, and the drummer boy. The monument was vandalized in 1977 and later damaged further, leaving the drummer boy with no hands and drumsticks.
Hinkle’s great-great-great grandfather was a member of the 98th Ohio, which is how he found the statue four years ago on a trip with his brother to research their family history. The battlefield is a residential area now, with numerous monuments throughout the area paying homage to the Civil War. Hinkle befriended a neighbor of the monument, who told him about the park’s efforts to repair the monuments in the area.
Hinkle tells his students history has a voice – you just have to listen to it. The fifth graders heard it loud and clear when Hinkle shared what he learned about the monument’s damaged drummer boy.
The drummer boy was typically the youngest soldier in a unit.
“A lot of times those guys were volunteers, but they weren’t old enough to fight. so the army would have them as musicians, to signal charges,” Hinkle said.
Fifth grade student Mason Streeter remembered how he felt when he first hear about the statue.
“I thought, whoever vandalized it, that’s kind of messed up, who would want to do that?” Streeter said. “And at the same time, we’ve got to fix this, it’s part of our history. For our veterans, after all they did, this is just a small portion that we need to do for them.”
After a school year full of fundraisers, phone calls to veterans groups and businesses, tallying up donations, and doing interviews with media outlets in Chattanooga and Columbus, the students raised enough money to cover the costs of the trip to see the statue in person, on a field trip to Missionary Ridge that Hinkle called a “once in a lifetime opportunity.” The class visited the park and learned about the battle and the area. They took a ride on an incline up Missionary Ridge, and learned what the Civil War soldiers ate and where they marched.
“My favorite part was when we went to the ceremony because all the people who supported us were down there, even though it was raining, that meant a lot to me,” said student Olivia Stratt.
“They showed so much class, it was all about honoring the veterans,” Hinkle said.
Hinkle said the students were treated “like rock stars” by their hosts in Chattanooga – from the 108 people who attended the ceremony, to the many gifts and thanks the students received along their trip, to the private school that provided lunch for the students.
“None of this could have happened without my teacher,” Stratt said. “I’m glad I was in his homeroom.”