Re-enacting the past to help education’s future in Cocalico

By on May 11, 2016
Gregory Stull on the back of Big Shot during a re-enacting eve.

Gregory Stull on the back of Big Shot during a re-enacting eve.

Parts of Cocalico High School will be transformed into a Civil War encampment next weekend, with re-enactors and interpreters sharing stories straight out of history — and maybe even a bowl of Confederate bean soup.

The Civil War Living History Day, set for Saturday, May 21, is part social gathering, part fundraiser for the Cocalico Education Foundation. Activities from 10 a.m. through 5 p.m. are free and include artillery demos, an 1860s wedding, a skirmish and generals’ meetings.

A Southern Sampler dinner and the one-man play “Soldiers in Gray” complete the line-up. Tickets can be purchased on site; entry to both events is $22 for adults and $12 for students.

Spend any time there, and you’ll likely bump into Sherri Stull, the district’s business manager, dressed in period garb. Stull and her husband, Gregory, are both direct descendants of Southern fighters. They’ve been re-enacting for about five and a half years and play an active role in Lee’s Lieutenants, a living history group that portrays members of the Army of Northern Virginia.

When Foundation leaders were brainstorming for new ideas, they approached Stull about organizing a period event that would both educate and entertain.

Using connections she’s built playing a grieving widow and spy to her husband’s Confederate Lt. General Leonidas Polk, Stull was able to attract participants from Gettysburg, Virginia, and Kentucky.

Cocalico School District Business Manager Sherri Stull plays a  woman in mourning to husband Gregory’s Confederate Lt. General Leonidas Polk

Cocalico School District Business Manager Sherri Stull plays a
woman in mourning to husband Gregory’s Confederate Lt. General Leonidas Polk

She expects enough representatives from both Confederate and Union ranks to pull off a skirmish. Between timed events, guests can stop by tents to discuss everything from laundry to medical treatments to life as a refugee. There will also be a la carte food for sale, including a full slate of Southern favorites like ham, collared greens and peach cobbler.

Stull personally asked North Carolina actor Stan Clardy to bring his play to the Denver school. She’s seen it “about 20 times,” including at the 150th anniversary of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Clardy wrote “Soldiers in Gray,” a musical look at a Rebel’s life before, during and after the war.

This is the first time the play has been presented in Lancaster County.

“It really gives you insight to the average soldier and what they went through,” says Stull.

Sherri Stull (center) portrayed Frances Devereux Polk, wife of Confederate Lt. General Leonidas Polk, portrayed by her real life husband, Gregory Stull. An Abraham Lincoln (left) also attended the  Victorian ball, though Stull is careful to note their paths actually would not have crossed.

Sherri Stull (center) portrayed Frances Devereux Polk, wife of Confederate Lt. General Leonidas Polk, portrayed by her real life husband, Gregory Stull. An Abraham Lincoln (left) also attended the Victorian ball, though Stull is careful to note their paths actually would not have crossed.

Stull’s great-great grandfather fought with the 128 Pennsylvania regiment, and Gregory Stull is the great-great-great grandson of Polk, who was killed in action at Pine Mountain, Georgia.

Though they often fall in with Southern companies at re-enactments, Stull says appreciation for Civil War history and culture-the deprivation and sadness that people often faced-leads to friendships that cross battle lines.

The Stulls have also galvanized with the 45th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry and with the 21st North Carolina infantry. The couple’s horse, Big Shot, also gets in on the action.

“You just do what you need to do to put on a good event,” says Stull. “You need enough people to put on the battle, but it’s not just about the soldiers. We want people to understand all the different aspects of the time.”

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