Q&A: Student Leverages Website & Facebook to Save Civil War History
Twelve-year-old Andrew Druart is likely the world’s youngest Civil War enthusiast and activist. Druart has raised more than $10,000 for the Civil War Trust through a “Donate for Andrew’s Cause” button on the website. In return, the Civil War Trust awarded Druart a junior preservation award for his hard work in fundraising and awareness for Civil War battlegrounds – the organization’s first-ever award to go to a child.
Druart’s commitment to Civil War History is a project-based learning success story thanks to his dedicated parents who have allowed family trips and summer vacations to be learning experiences. Today, Andrew shares with us what sparked his passions for Civil War history and what interests him most about this time in history.
Q: What first inspired you about the Civil War battlefields?
My dad took me to Gettysburg, Penn. As I walked the field, especially at Pickett’s Charge, I could see a line of soldiers in butternut and grey marching toward us at the Union Line and even see and kind of smell the smoke of the battle. As I learned about the men who fought and died, I really connected to the hallowed ground. When I learned that we are losing hallowed ground to apartment complexes, shopping centers and houses – destroying the battlefields – I didn’t like that. Destroying battlefields is like erasing history. As I learned about the Civil War Trust from my dad, I decided I wanted to not only learn about the battlefields, war and people, I wanted to help save our hallowed ground. Also, most all of my friends didn’t know about the Civil War, and most of the websites were for college kids and adults or really focused on the military tactics, so I started a website to share things that I thought other kids would be more interested in.
Q: How did you first connect with Civil War Trust?
When you go online to learn about the Civil War, Civil War Trust has the best website, so I found it quickly. I then learned from my dad, that the company he worked for actually provided them with the software to run the website and do their fundraising. Once I decided I wanted to help I sent them a letter and we worked with them. They are really great people and have helped me learn so much. Teachers and students would love their website. They also offer free conferences to help teachers better tell the Civil War story and their maps are amazing.
Q: In what ways have you found (internal) reward for your fundraising efforts?
I feel like I am really making a difference in saving battlefields and it fun getting to work with amazing people.
Q: Why do you feel it’s important to remember these battles and maintain the battlefields?
I think the Civil War was the most important in our history. Not only because of the causes, but it really was brother-against-brother and friend-against-friend. And because it was fought in the U.S., it is one of the only wars where you can still easily go walk the land that our American soldiers fought and died on. You can see photos and read letters about what these men felt and thought. But most importantly, walking a battlefield makes it easier to understand what happened there and makes you ask many more questions about what the soldiers felt, thought and even ask why would they make charges like those at Franklin, Cold Harbor, Petersburg or the Maine boys at Fredericksburg, when they knew that they were so likely to be killed.
Also, destroying battlefields is like erasing history. As new technology is created and as we still find new writings and materials about the war, being able to visit the battlefields helps historians interpret the war, the actions and what happened so that we will never forget. It is also a neat feeling to know you are standing in the same spot where General Grant, General Lee or thousands of young men that you just read about, stood.
Many kids had relatives that might have served in the war and they can walk the same ground that relative walked 150 years ago. I’ve stood near the spot where my great, great, great, great grandfather camped at Harper’s Ferry. I’ve walked on the spot where another relative, David Sloane Stanley earned the Medal of Honor. What’s funny about that is my family didn’t know about those relatives and relationships until I started doing this, so they are learning the history of our family too. I’ve also learned that we need to protect green-space and the environment, so it helps is several way.
Q: If you could go back and meet an individual from the Civil War, who would it be?
I talk to my dad about this all the time. One of the neat things about the Civil War is that there are a lot of letters from soldiers that still survive, so you can kind of get to know what they thought, but those letters always make me want to ask more questions. So, I would talk with many of the regular soldiers, I would also talk to my relatives that fought on both sides to get to know them better, and I would even ask some of the generals questions. But I think that if I had to pick one person, the one person I would really like to talk to is David Sloane Stanley.
Q: What other events in history inspire you?
I’m really becoming interested in all military history, but mostly the wars and battles that most people don’t know about. I had classmates who knew we had World War II, but didn’t know about World War I. World War I is probably the next most interesting to me, but I want to go to some Revolutionary War battlefields too. I’m interested in the Border Wars in Kansas/Missouri because they showed how bloody the Civil War was going to be.
I also think that we don’t really do a very good job of talking about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth. We share that it happened, but we don’t talk much about how that single event changed history. Lincoln would have been much more forgiving than President Johnson was. Lincoln said, “Let them up easy. Let them up easy.” I think Johnson was meaner and that helped lead to the challenges of reconstruction and I think drove racism to be worse that it would have been if Lincoln had lived. I’m not saying we would not have had it, but I think it would have been better.
Q: How have your efforts inspired other students and community members?
I give talks to Boy Scouts where my dad and I dress in Civil War uniforms to talk about the life of a soldier and the war, and the scouts and their parents all seem to really like it. After those, I get several emails and the visits to my website and Facebook pages go up. I’ve also been told by historians, National Park Rangers and others who share the interest in the cause of saving history, that I’ve challenged or inspired them to do more. All the people I have met who are preserving battlefields are much older than I am and they are worried that when they are gone, there won’t be anyone to protect the hallowed ground and the developers will get to build their stupid casino near the battlefield at Gettysburg, or the site where a thousand men fought and died at The Wilderness will become a shopping center. I think they know that there are kids that care and they want to do more now, so that me and other kids will have a place to go and will also fight to save this land.
It really matters to every American – even if your family wasn’t here then. Mr. Lighthizer who runs the Civil War Trust, in a speech said that, it is for kids like me that they are saving these battlefields. In 50 years we will commemorate the Bicentennial of America’s Civil War and kids like me will still be here to not only give tours of the hallowed ground, but share the story of the Civil War Trust members who saved that land so that in the years 2061-2065, Americans can still visit those places and learn about the people who fought, died and lived to tell the story. He said that inspires him, but it also inspires me to keep at it.
I also know the Rangers that share information on my Facebook page and meet me when I come to the parks really, really like it when kids come to the park to listen and learn. It makes me feel really good when a Ranger, an author, historian or other adult says that I helped inspire them. I like getting email from other kids around the world like this one from a 14-year-old in Canada stating, “I just wanted to let you know your website is awesome! And what your doing is great, by helping save battlefields!”
I also feel good when I see things like this on Facebook from a person I met. An education director at a Civil War museum said, “This amazing and awe-inspiring kid is coming to visit the museum today! I am so excited to meet him because he reminds us of why we do what we do!” It makes me know I need to do a really good job.
Q: How do you think we can better integrate these stories and lessons into the classroom to grab the interest of students today?
First, we have to spend some time studying and talking about the Civil War. My teachers told me we don’t spend much time on it, because there won’t be many, if any questions about it on the test. Some have said we don’t go into it much, because it is hard to talk about racism and slavery and those issues, which I think is really bad. How are we going to deal with those issues if we never talk about them when we are supposed to be learning?
I also get frustrated, even mad when people say we have to spend time on science and math because they are more important. There is history in all those subjects and kids don’t think about that. You can also include math and science in studying history. I’ve learned you have to know algebra to fire a cannon. That’s right, you have to get the angle right, you have to know the timing of the fuse, the distance of the target, and figure that out to make sure the artillery fire works – oh and they had to do all that quickly while someone was shooting at them.
I learned a bunch about chemistry from a man named Wendell Decker at a Living History weekend. He was taking tintype photos the way they made them during the Civil War. He had to get the chemicals mixed accurately, allow just the right amount of light to get to the camera, then clean the tin in the right solution to create the image. If teachers had more time or went to free conferences like Civil War Trust puts on they might be able to see these things.
I know I am lucky to get to go the places we go and do the things we do, and I’ve had teachers who let me share in class, but I think we could use more stories and real world resources and let the kids do more of the teaching and sharing. We can also make it more personal by tying it to the state and area kids live.
The Civil War had an impact on our entire country, so there is a Civil War story to be told in places far from the battles that can make history come alive in any town. And a Ranger just shared a story about women in the Civil War which reminded me that even girls that might not be interested in the war because it is bloody and gory, which most of the boys like, can learn about our history through the letters of the mothers, sisters and daughters, or their dress, the way they lived. You can even see toys, dolls and all kinds of things that are really interesting to kids.
Q: What are your aspirations for the future? What do you want to do for college and career?
I want to get a doctorate in history and someday be the chief historian at a Civil War battlefield. I want to write a book or two to help people learn more about the Civil War and the people at that time. I’d also like to solve a history mystery. There are still many artifacts or questions we have about our history. I’d like to do the research and find the missing pieces that can help tell the story of our history.
I was leaning toward going to Vanderbilt to get my doctorate and play college basketball, and I think that would still be good, but after visiting Richmond and meeting the President of the University of Richmond and talking with Park Rangers that went to places like Virginia, Washington and Lee, Chattanooga, Richmond, West Virginia and a number of others, that I could really like. My mom and dad keep telling me it’s OK to think about it, but relax as I have some time.
Thank you for doing this. It helps to get the word out so we can save more of our history.
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