By Joel Hall
With a great deal of effort, Dwight Maddox, an 11th-grade student at Forest Park High School, dug his heels into the ground and used both hands to operate a 19th century cornmeal grinder.
In about five minutes, Maddox was able to produce a small pouch, containing about four or five ounces of grits. According to Stately Oaks tour guide, Ted Key, it would have taken him another hour to produce enough grits for one meal for a family of four.
"It's hard to believe that you had to go through this much trouble for a bowl of grits," said Key. "Life wasn't as easy as they thought it was in the old days. You worked from sun up to sun down to make even the simplest things," Key added.
That was the lesson Stately Oaks volunteers tried to impart to some 400 students from five different groups on Thursday, during a Home Front Tour in preparation for the 1864 Battle of Jonesborough Re-enactment this Saturday and Sunday.
The group was the largest school group ever hosted by Stately Oaks at one time, according to Stately Oaks docent, Darlene Thomason. The group included students from a wide range of ages, from Callaway Elementary and Smith Elementary schools, Babb Middle School, Forest Park High School, as well as home-schooled students.
"Everybody's laughing and I haven't seen any injuries, so it's been successful," said Thomason. "It's the first time I have seen teachers and children laughing at the same time in awhile."
Teachers and students got to participate in arts and crafts, games, and chores of the antebellum period. Popular during the time was graces, a throw-and-catch game, which involves two sets of long sticks and a large ring; the ball and cup, a game in which challengers use momentum to land a ball inside a cup attached with a string, and bowling hoops, a traditional game, in which a short stick is used to balance a moving hoop.
"It's kind of silly ... but it's cool," said Joshua McDaniel of the 19th century games. The Forest Park High, 10th grader added, " I usually stick to video games," but the event is "kind of good. You get to see how people used to live and how it was back then."
Many teachers, who never visited Stately Oaks before, also were appreciative of the hands-on approach to learning about Georgia history.
"We're currently studying the Civil War in our class ... so this brings it all home," said Christopher Davis, a ninth- and 11th-grade teacher at Forest Park High School. "It brings everything to life. One of the kids said, thank goodness for technology. It's amazing to see all of this stuff, and to see how everything has evolved," Davis continued.
Some students were allowed to try on 19th century bonnets and hoop skirts. They also saw rifle demonstrations and participated in Civil War-era military formations .
"We're taking a hands-on approach to teaching them what it was like to be a solider during the war," said Kiev Thomason, re-enactment liaison for Stately Oaks and Historical Jonesboro. "People do not realize how important Jonesboro is. Jonesborough was one of the keystones of the Confederacy ... [The Battle of] Jonesborough was just as important as Antietam or any of those other battles."
Thomason said that this year's reenactment would be different from past years. Saturday, actors will recreate the first advance of Union Troops on Jonesboro soil, and on Sunday, recreate one of the important skirmishes of the Battle of Jonesborough, the 14th Union Army Corps, led by General George Henry Thomas, against Confederate Brigadier General Daniel Govan and the Arkansas Brigade.
The 1864 Battle of Jonesborough Re-enactment will take place on Saturday and Sunday at Stately Oaks Plantation, located at 100 Carriage Lane near downtown Jonesboro. Re-enactments will start at 2 p.m., on both days.