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Updated: Thursday, 10 May 2012, 8:16 AM EDT
Published : Thursday, 10 May 2012, 8:16 AM EDT
AUSTIN (KXAN) - Early next month, the Civil War Trust , an organization dedicated to the preservation of historic battlefields from the War between the States, will hand out its first ever award to a child.
That child is Andrew Druart, 12, from South Austin.
“They're giving me an award for junior preservation,” said Andrew. “I'm the first one to get this award for protecting battlefields at such a young age.”
Believe it or not, Andrew’s trip to the Richmond, Va., Civil War Trust Annual Conference , started with baseball.
When he was 10, the boy and his father, Tad Druart, took a trip to the East coast to check out some baseball games. Such trips are a regular father-son activity in the Druart family and they almost always include visits along the way to historic sites and museums.
Two years ago, they made room for a visit to the Gettysburg National Battlefield . Andrew insisted on arriving at the site before dawn and he and his dad spent the day checking out every nook and cranny.
“I just got a feeling,” Andrew remembered, “and when I could close my eyes, I could actually picture seeing a line of gray soldiers in butternut a mile long coming towards us.”
“Walking on the battlefield,” the father recalled, “learning about the soldiers who fought there, seeing where soldiers from Texas and Minnesota, where his mom's from, and Kansas, where I'm from, hearing all those stories and hearing about the soldiers, he just became enamored with the Civil War and learning more about it and asking all sorts of questions.
“The rangers who have kept in touch with him through Facebook and online, they tell me how it's very rare for a kid his age to be that engaged.
“For instance,” Druart continued, “at the Battle of Cold Harbor where 6,000 men laid for two to three days in the hot Virginia sun, you could tell that he was almost in tears as the park ranger talked about it.
“That empathy is really neat and I think that's what led him to the next level of, 'We have to protect this ground.' He's kind of an old soul.
“So we started an odyssey for him to learn.”
Back in Austin, Andrew took things to the next level. He got wind of the trust and decided to join its effort to save the war’s fighting grounds.
“At first, I raised $100 and gave it to the Civil War Trust,” he said. “Then we became very connected with them and we added a link to their Web site that said, ' Donate for Andrew's cause .' You could just click that and go there and donate in my name.”
The Druarts say that effort has raised $10,000 so far.
But Andrew didn’t stop there. He arranged to give presentations to school and Boy Scout groups, presentations that often include a demonstration of the firing of a Civil War musket.
When he first caught the Civil War bug, re-enactors would not let him fire the weapon.
“The rule was you have to be taller than the top of the musket,” Tad Druart said, “and so now he's taller than the top of the musket, so we've taught him how to do it.”
The shooting, of course, thrills the young people in Andrew’s audiences, but he and his dad do it for another reason, as well.
“It's also understanding,” Tad Druart said, “that when you hold that weapon and see how the bullets would have come out and the power, I think it gives you a little more understanding when you see the smoke, what the battlefield must have been like, where you might not be able to see 20 feet in front of you.’
A typical presentation also includes a discussion of the size of Civil War soldiers. They were much smaller than present day Americans.
“When you think about it, they didn't have hamburgers or hotdogs or macaroni and cheese,” Andrew explained.
Instead, Civil War fighters often made do with whatever they could scrounge on the ground. At his presentations, Andrew passes around plates of samples of salt port and hardtack, foods that comprised much of a soldier’s diet.
The pair also pulls out a heavy bayonet used in the war, but now outlawed by international convention, because wounds caused by the three-sided weapon resisted healing.
It turns out, the bayonet didn’t get that much use in the American conflict either.
“When you are marching 12 miles a day,” Andrew said, “this kind of thing got a little tiring to carry, so most soldiers just threw them out.”
Tad Druart tells audience members about something else that got thrown away during the long and bloody war: the arms and legs that were amputated from wide-awake soldiers without benefit of any kind of anesthesia beyond perhaps a shot of whiskey.
Such images surely roamed through Andrew’s mind when he was asked about the two sisters he has at home. Could he imagine going to war against an army that included his own siblings? He shook his head.
“I can’t imagine that,” he said, “but I know that’s what happened.
“I don’t really take sides. Because I'm a Texan, I kind of like my state, which is in the South. But then again, I have at least 20 relatives who fought in the Civil War and more than half of them were Yankees.”
food, the bayonet, the musket demonstration: These things bring the conflict between the states to life, but Tad Druart is quick to remind the audience that the war killed more Americans than all other U.S. wars combined.
“We're not here glorifying the Civil War,” he told a large audience of Boy Scouts Monday night. “We don't want people to think it was a great fun thing to play; it was very deadly.”
And, says the father, Andrew understands that completely.
“It's not enough just to go to the battlefield for him,” Tad Druart said. “We visit the national cemeteries. He learns about the soldiers that died there and can tell me those stories.”
“Every time we go there,” Andrew said, “we play Taps and take off our hats and just sit for a moment and recognize that these men did fight for their country and die here.”
They lobby everyone they meet to stand up against the development of battleground sites for things like Wal-mart stores and apartment complexes.
Yet, might this prove to be only a passing fancy for a 12 year-old child? Andrew thinks not.
“I'm actually planning to keep this going for as long as I can,” he said, “to keep it running until I have kids and can take them to the battlefields. Then they can take over.
“I want to go Vanderbilt and get a Ph.D. in history so I can become a head historian at one of the battlefields.
“What I like to say,” Andrew said, “is when you destroy battlefields, you're just basically erasing history.”
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