Cardozo brings the gritty Civil War to life for students

Civil War uniforms are put on display in an interactive tour of the era at Cardozo High School in Bayside. Photo courtesy Peter Georgatos
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High school students study the Civil War every year, but rarely do they ever get a chance to see, hear, smell and taste it.

That all changed Friday when hundreds of students at Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in Bayside took to the fields throughout the day to see what life was like for Civil War soldiers firsthand, complete with A-frame tents, period food, uniforms, weaponry and even shaving equipment.

The entire event was orchestrated with help from history teacher Peter Ridout, an active member of the 124th New York State Volunteers Civil War re-enactment unit.

“I want these kids to get a real appreciation of history,” Ridout said. “Anything that I can do to bring that to life is what it’s all about.”

As he has done for five consecutive years now, Ridout arrived at Cardozo in the early hours of the morning, regardless of the weather, to prepare its field so that it accurately portrays the camps of the Civil War era. Throughout the day, hundreds of American history students at the school took tours of the site to see the ins and outs of Civil War life up close.

Assistant Principal of Social Studies Peter Georgatos said the event has grown to become a school tradition that sets Cardozo apart from any other high schools in northeast Queens.

“Putting something like this together makes much more of an impression on the kids,” Georgatos said. “It brings it all to life and that is what separates us from any other school.”

To engage the students in sight, Ridout assembled the same style of tents in which soldiers would sleep inside. While they could read all they wanted about how tightly packed those tents were, the history teacher of more than 25 years said the lessons really hit home with the kids once they were packed inside the tents themselves.

Ridout also organized more musical lessons where students could experience the important role of the drums, as they were used during the Civil War to execute commands, he said. The history teacher also outlined firing procedures during battle.

And to engage all of the students’ senses, Ridout ignited a camp fire and prepared period food for them to try themselves. The history teacher said he prepared one of the more popular dishes known as apples and onions, served with the same types of utensils soldiers had used during that era.

Though all of these messages could be conveyed by rolling a television into the classroom to show Civil War movies and documentaries, Ridout said there was nothing like the real thing.

“Teenagers are much more tactile,” Ridout said. “The movie is still a movie. But this way, students get to crawl into a tent and see where soldiers had to sleep. It allows them to see the life for themselves.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4573.

Posted 8:07 pm, December 19, 2012
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Reader feedback

Billy Northeast from Bayside says:
Great School!
Dec. 27, 2012, 11:47 pm
Michele says:
Amazing school!!
Jan. 9, 2013, 6:09 pm
Andi says:
I remember being in class and hearing the gun shots. Amazing memories of this school.
Feb. 2, 2013, 9:14 am

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