Mr. Lincoln's Soldiers is a two and a half hour program that gives students hands-on experience exploring life as a Union army recruit at Camp Greene, which was located on Theodore Roosevelt Island during the Civil War. The island provides an ideal setting for examining such concepts as the abolition of slavery, the experience of African American soldiers in the Civil War, and the effects that serving in the Union Army had on soldiers.
The students' experience begins when they sign an enlistment form. Their new captain will help them to organize, prompting them to elect sergeants and forming them into files and columns.
Moving troops from place to place was the first step to winning the war, and it was not easy to get hundreds of men to cross hundreds of miles on foot without getting too disorganized to fight once they arrived. The captain will introduce students to the School of the Soldier, teaching them a few of the many basic commands each soldier had to learn. Students will use these commands to move together as a team of infantry.
Walking together is difficult, but at least it is familiar; handling artillery was completely foreign to new recruits. Soldiers had to learn rigidly defined jobs to fire explosives from heavy cannon without hurting themselves or their comrades. The captain will divide the unit into teams and teach them the basics of the School of the Piece.
Good communication was crucial, not just between men in a unit, but between units in the army. Some recruits joined the Signal Corps and had to master the intricate codes used to send messages. The captain will show students how signal flags worked and challenge them to interpret a few orders.
In between learning all of these new commands and codes, recruits had to learn how to take care of themselves in the field while actively campaigning. They were responsible for creating their own shelters and doing their own cooking, cleaning, and sewing. Students will examine the contents of a soldier's knapsack and consider what they would need to bring to war.
The program will end with a short period for reflection on the effect that learning all of these new skills may have changed the way that recruits saw themselves.