Feature Story

Semester of the Battlefields

March 26, 2015 – by Katie Nunner '15

Ohio Wesleyan student Rachael Nicholas ’16 examines a military Sharps rifle used during the Civil War by U.S. Army marksmen. Few rifles of this kind were actually produced, she says. (Photo courtesy of Rachael Nicholas ’16)

OWU Junior Studies Civil War History in Off-Campus Program at Gettysburg College

Budding Civil War historian Rachael Nicholas ’16 experienced the semester of her dreams immersed in authentic battlefields of the Civil War era.

“The experience is the highlight of my college career and probably the highlight of anything I’ve done in my life,” says Nicholas, a history and classics double major and medieval studies minor from Medina, Ohio.

Joining students from across the country to study in Gettysburg College’s Department of Civil War Era Studies, Nicholas was able to obtain first-hand experience of the Civil War and its battlefields.

“They call Gettysburg the best Civil War classroom, Nicholas says. “It’s because you are on the battlefield, and that’s what really makes the program.”

Nicholas studied historical interpretations, observed the physical battlefield of the war, and participated in an internship at the military farm. Each Friday, the students traveled to a different battlefield to learn more about its military history.

“There was a huge variety of battlefields we visited over the semester, and we even did a trip to Washington, D.C., to see Ford’s Theatre and to see various Civil War sites.

“Academically I got much more experience with military history – something I didn’t know very much about before. I’m more of an aspiring social historian, so that was a new area for me to cover.”

Nicholas gained confidence in her research and writing skills through handling historical documents and artifacts, and using archives for research assignments.

“We wrote massive papers. Because we were near the battlefields and close to D.C., you were expected to use the archives for your research. When you went to go do research, you weren’t just pulling it up online – you were physically handling the artifacts.”

Nicholas was even able to blend her interest in fashion and history by participating in Civil War re-enacting.

“Civil War re-enacting was something I always wanted to do. Gettysburg College has a group of Civil War re-enactors, and I was able to get involved with the group. I got to participate in events on campus, and they let me borrow from their wardrobe.”

Enthused with her experience, Nicholas suggests students take advantage of opportunities to study off-campus.

“If you get the chance to do domestic programs, I highly recommended it. For me, I really love early American history, so it made sense for me to do this program. I’m glad I did the program at Gettysburg instead of going abroad somewhere else.

“It really helped me grow as a person and especially as a researcher because I got to get out there.”

As a student, she also learned a lot from the people around her.

“There is so much you can learn from people. Everyone has their own sort of specialties or likes learning different things. I learned so much from the people around me who had different backgrounds in Civil War history.”