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Hartford Eighth-Graders Revel in Civil War History

  • Hartford Middle School teacher Jennifer Boeri-Boyce speaks to students at the Hartford Cemetery yesterday. The students were at the cemetery to help put flags on veterans’ graves and dedicate a tree to those who served during the Civil War. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Hartford Middle School teacher Jennifer Boeri-Boyce speaks to students at the Hartford Cemetery yesterday. The students were at the cemetery to help put flags on veterans’ graves and dedicate a tree to those who served during the Civil War. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • At the Hartford Cemetery, from left to right, veterans Bruce Jager, Skip Dunham and Dan Reed place flags on graves yesterday. About 300 flags were distributed. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    At the Hartford Cemetery, from left to right, veterans Bruce Jager, Skip Dunham and Dan Reed place flags on graves yesterday. About 300 flags were distributed. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Savannah Josler and Rachel Witkowski, from the Hartford Middle School, were at the cemetery for a class project on the Civil War. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) <br/>

    Savannah Josler and Rachel Witkowski, from the Hartford Middle School, were at the cemetery for a class project on the Civil War. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hartford Middle School teacher Jennifer Boeri-Boyce speaks to students at the Hartford Cemetery yesterday. The students were at the cemetery to help put flags on veterans’ graves and dedicate a tree to those who served during the Civil War. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • At the Hartford Cemetery, from left to right, veterans Bruce Jager, Skip Dunham and Dan Reed place flags on graves yesterday. About 300 flags were distributed. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Savannah Josler and Rachel Witkowski, from the Hartford Middle School, were at the cemetery for a class project on the Civil War. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) <br/>

Hartford — A group of students who have been researching Civil War soldiers from Vermont visited the Hartford Cemetery off Route 14 yesterday afternoon to dedicate a tree to the deceased veterans and place nearly 200 flags on gravestones in honor of Memorial Day.

In conjunction with Valley Quest, an educational program that celebrates cultural sites in the Upper Valley, and Hartford Parks and Recreation Department, about 45 students from Jennifer Boeri-Boyce’s class at Hartford Memorial Middle School took part in a Civil War Commemoration and also shared biographies of select soldiers that they had been studying since mid-April.

Birds whistled in the pine trees and highway traffic echoed from the overpass as the students started their ascent up a gravel road that led to the grassy patch of land where their tree stood.

“I’m excited,” said Rachel Witkowski, a 14-year-old student. “This is like one big story that we’re reliving.”

Her friend Savanna Joslen, 13, grinned beside her. In a couple minutes, the two would present what they had learned about Pvt. George Brockway, a Union soldier in the 16th regiment who was buried at the bottom of the cemetery.

“It’s just so cool to see all this,” Savanna said. “I’ve really enjoyed getting to know our soldier.”

For Boeri-Boyce, that was the main goal of the project: To connect students locally with distant cornerstones of the past.

With four students traveling to Gettysburg this Monday to mark the upcoming 150th anniversary of the pivotal Union victory, giving her class an understanding of the local impact of the war is particularly valuable, Boeri-Boyce said.

“We can become so removed from history,” she said, “but I feel that it’s so important for us to study. We can learn a lot about the people who lived and breathed in the same area as us.”

The class studied 26 soldiers total, Boeri-Boyce said, many from Hartford and all from Vermont. The students worked alone or in pairs to write short biographies, which were posted on a website, civilwarcache.org.

Swaying in the breeze yesterday was a recently planted sugar maple with a red, white and blue ribbon affixed to its trunk. A piece of paper with a barcode on it jutted out of the soil, too.

Boeri-Boyce said people had a scanner on their smartphones could use it to read the barcode and be directed to the students’ website .

As the students circled the tree and fanned out in the grass, Boeri-Boyce applauded their hard work.

“You guys have left a legacy. Your work is going to be here forever,” she said.

Valley Quest program coordinator Laura Dintino then told the middle-schoolers that although a group of students from a natural resources class at the Hartford Area Career and Technology Center planted the tree, their contributions were equally important.

“It’s really a great service you’ve done for people,” Dintino said. “These soldiers gave up a lot, and now people can learn their stories thanks to you.”

After listening to two students’ presentations, Rachel and Savanna stood up to read.

They addressed their class, taking turns with the information and speaking from memory.

Pvt. Brockway survived the war, they said, but went on to suffer from what’s now known as post-traumatic stress disorder. After a rocky and sometimes violent relationship with his wife and children, Brockway bounced between asylums for the rest of his life. He died at 43.

After the commemoration, Nick Chambers and Jack Urso, both 14, stood in front of a gravestone and reflected on the soldier they studied, Pvt. Isaac Needham.

“I liked learning about how much they gave for the United States,” Nick said. “ It’s a sobering fact.”

As the students traveled back to school, three veterans traveled uphill through the cemetery in a silver truck, placing flags on any graves that the students might have missed.

Dan Reed, of Hartland, Skip Dunham, of Lebanon, and Bruce Jager, of White River Junction, said they enlisted during the Vietnam War but never saw combat. They were happy to see the students learning about the struggles of Americans from an earlier time.

“Without all the sacrifices, we wouldn’t have what we do today,” Reed said. “They need to know why they can go out and do this, and I’m glad they are.”