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Civil War reenactor takes students back through history

by KATE HESTON
Daily Inter Lake | February 25, 2024 12:00 AM

Fourth-grade teacher Karissa Prewitt puts on a Civil War-era hospital steward coat while standing before her class at Peterson Elementary in Kalispell. It’s an ode to the completion of students learning about the creation of America.

The coat belongs to Mike Inman, historian and American Civil War reenactor, who stands at the front of the classroom in his own Civil War-era medical outfit. Inman, who lives in Spokane, traveled to Kalispell to teach the students about the 1800s.

“I feel like students could read about history all day long, but seeing it, feeling it makes it more real,” Prewitt said. 

Inman, a Navy veteran and retired firefighter, began growing his passion for the Civil War after retirement. Now, he travels to different battlefields, like Gettysburg, for battle reenactments and educates children and groups on the period, hoping to expand his passion to others.  

When the kids arrived in the classroom after recess, Inman separated the group into two — the Confederacy and the Union. He referred to groups when talking about how the battles went throughout the Civil War — who won, who lost and who was leading the charges. 

“When I ask ‘When did the Civil War start?’ I want you to say ‘April 1861,’' Inman said, followed by a chorus of chants echoing the date. 

Inman covered a multitude of topics during his hour with the elementary students. He started by having the kids close their eyes and try to picture what the year 1860 looked like. Inman said, at the time, that there was barely anything in the area. Montana was still a part of the Washington territory at the time that the Civil War began.

Standing beneath handmade art of compasses by the students, Inman covered the important battles of the war, many of which the students had been taught about in the weeks leading up to his presentation. From Bull Run, to Antietam to Gettysburg, Inman walked the students through the major events of the Civil War. 

One of the biggest changes from the Civil War, Inman said, was the notion that the United States were one, together. When speaking about the country, people transitioned from saying “the United States are…” to “the United States is…,” signaling a sense of unity post-war. 

What captured the student's attention above all was the spread of Civil War-era equipment, all belonging to Inman, that the students got to see and learn about.

Inman first held up an old pair of dentist pliers, used to pull teeth out, to which the students looked on with awe. 

“Ow!,” one student said, thinking about getting his tooth pulled with the device. 

Inman also brought an old pill maker made of brass, a cavalry sword, a surgeon sword, an amputation saw, a massive key from Gettysburg that was often used as a tourniquet, a musket and a shotgun. Students viewed these with excitement. 

“I even have a cannon at home,” Inman told the students. 

The Civil War-period artifacts also included three books with medical information and an old crutch from a barn in Virginia. The kids got to, one by one, hold the musket to see how heavy it was. 

“It was really fun. My favorite part was getting to hold it,” said fourth-grade student Grant Reed. “I like how I’m named after a general too.” 

Inman spoke a lot about Ulysses S. Grant during his presentation, one of the strongest commanding generals of the war. 

“My mom’s grandma is related to Ulysses S. Grant,” said fourth-grade student Ryan Catlett. Catlett said that he loved learning about American history, specifically the Revolutionary War. 

Prewitt started teaching the students about American history prior to the presentation beginning with the Revolutionary War, covering the Constitutional Convention and then moving into discussing the Civil War. 

“I hope they have a better understanding of how our country was formed,” Prewitt said after the Feb. 9 presentation. 

Prewitt also said that, outside of historical knowledge alone, the unit has allowed students to expand on their writing and reading skills. Further, the Civil War in particular was a good introduction to the economy as the North and South relied on different industries to make money. 

Above all, Prewitt said, she thinks that the students have gained an understanding that people are all created equal and that a unified country is a strong one. 

“My favorite thing about my job is getting able to talk to kids,” Inman said after his presentation. “I hope that more kids can get interested in American history.”

Inman gave each student an authentic bullet found on the Gettysburg battlefield, giving the students a piece of history to take home and share with others. 

At the end of Inman’s presentation, the bell, signaling that school was out for the day, rang. Students began leaving the classroom, each eagerly thanking Inman, leaving with a new understanding of the period that made America what it is today.


Reporter Kate Heston can be reached at kheston@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4459.




    Civil War reenactor and historian Mike Inman shows a Sharps carbine rifle to Karissa Prewitt's fourth-grade class at Peterson Elementary School in Kalispell on Friday, Feb. 9. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)
 Casey Kreider 
 
 
    Civil War reenactor and historian Mike Inman gives students a chance to handle a musket in teacher Karissa Prewitt's class at Peterson Elementary School in Kalispell on Friday, Feb. 9. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)
 Casey Kreider 
 
 
    A student handles a Civil War-era saber during a lesson by reenactor and historian Mike Inman in fourth-grade teacher Karissa Prewitt's class at Peterson Elementary School in Kalispell on Friday, Feb. 9. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)
 Casey Kreider 
 
 
    Civil War reenactor and historian Mike Inman shows a musket to Karissa Prewitt's fourth-grade class at Peterson Elementary School in Kalispell on Friday, Feb. 9. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)
 Casey Kreider 
 
 
    Fourth-grade students gather around a table of Civil War-era artifacts during a lesson by reenactor and historian Mike Inman in teacher Karissa Prewitt's class at Peterson Elementary School in Kalispell on Friday, Feb. 9. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)
 Casey Kreider 
 
 
    Fourth-grade students pass around a Civil War-era bone saw during a lesson by reenactor and historian Mike Inman in fourth-grade teacher Karissa Prewitt's class at Peterson Elementary School in Kalispell on Friday, Feb. 9. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)
 Casey Kreider