On the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, Civil War reenactor Spencer Hinkle visited Cabrillo Middle School in a Confederate uniform that his wife, Carol, sewed. Hinkle, a retired high school history teacher and librarian from SCUSD, voluntarily offered five groups of eighth grade students history presentations, with each one ending on his live demonstration of how a solider in the American Civil War fired a musket.
“Spencer Hinkle has been doing reenactments ever since Grant and Lee [met] at Appomattox to end the Civil War,” joked Stan Garber, principal of Cabrillo Middle School.
“When we talk about the American Civil War, some kids think it’s ancient history, but it was only 150 years ago,” Hinkle said. “Most kids say the reason the Civil War happened was because of slavery, and I tell them it wasn’t. The war was about 11 states that wanted to leave the union, and it was about the attack on Fort Sumter. The Civil War began with the attack on Fort Sumter by the Confederates. That was a federal fort in Charleston Harbor of South Carolina. South Carolina was one of the states that seceded, or left the Union. The Union wanted to bring back the states that seceded by force. They left by force, and they wanted to bring them back by force.”
After giving a short lecture about the Civil War, Hinkle showed students artifacts from that time period, which included clothing, a tent, a cartridge box, a horse hair toothbrush, union money, matches, and tobacco. Then he selected a student to wear the clothing and accessories of a Civil War soldier.
After Hinkle showed students a long musket, he led them outside and fired the weapon into the air.
“There are no bullets or lead here; we’re only blowing powder,” Hinkle said. “In essence, I’m setting off a firecracker, and I’m 30 feet away from the students when I do it. The principal has signed off a waiver for me to be on school grounds with firearms, and the police department is notified on the day I show up that there will be the sound of gunfire on campus. So safety is a big consideration.”
Hinkle is a member of the National Civil War Association (NCWA). He purchases items from online “sutlers” for his presentations. During the war, sutlers were tradespeople.
“Movies like to make fun of Civil War reenactments,” Hinkle said. “But part of the reason I do this is so I can educate others about the Civil War. I’m not here to glorify war or glorify weapons. I want people to understand that 625,000 people died in this war. It’s an unbelievable sacrifice on the part of Americans. We’re honoring the soldiers who sacrificed their life for our freedoms.”