DESTIN — Two local history buffs pulled off a minor miracle at Destin Middle School on Friday, holding a cafeteria full of fifth-graders in quiet attention as they brought the Civil War to life.
Parker Destin, a city councilman and Destin History and Fishing Museum board member, teamed up with P.O. Cole, an eight-grade history teacher at Destin Middle, to give students nearly an hour of insights into the “Great Rebellion.”
Destin, a student at the middle school a couple of decades ago, told the students about his forebear, Leonard Destin, a Connecticut whaler who settled in the area in 1845. During the Civil War, Destin said, Leonard Destin found himself in the middle of the Union’s “Anaconda Plan,” an effort to keep Southern ports closed.
In 1861, the Union ship Water Witch anchored off the East Pass at what is now Destin and fired on the Confederates’ Walton Guard. The Union troops would eventually make their way onshore and to Leonard Destin’s house, where they took a number of his possessions, including a gun. Some hours later, Destin went out to the Water Witch and asked for the return of his possessions.
Union troops gave him everything but his gun, Destin said, but that turned out not to be his only problem. Onshore, members of the Walton Guard saw Destin go out to the Union boat, and suspecting he was trading with the enemy, detained him for some time.
Later, though, other Destin family members would serve with the Walton Guard, Destin told the students.
Destin also took a moment to warn the students that historical accounts can depend on the perspective of the person writing them. In the case of the “battle” of East Pass, Union accounts of an assault on the Walton Guard prior to Union troops going to Leonard Destin’s home indicated that no Union soldiers were injured, while Confederate accounts claim that all of the Union troops in a boat that came ashore were killed or wounded.
“The Union accounts were in logbooks,” Destin told the fifth-graders, “and the Confederate accounts were in letters.” The truth lies in the Union records, Destin said, because they were official records as opposed to personal letters, in which the Confederates likely were boasting of their exploits.
Following Destin’s presentation, students heard Cole recite the Gettysburg Address, one of President Abraham Lincoln’s most noted speeches. Delivered after the bloody battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, as a national cemetery was established at the site, the speech includes the memorable sentiment “that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from this earth.”
In an interview before his presentation, Cole — a self-described fan of the 16th president — called Lincoln “one of the most fundamentally decent, honest, caring people we’ve ever had” in the presidency.
Explaining to the students that Lincoln’s speech also looked forward to the ongoing work of democracy, he told them that they would also have that responsibility.
“I can’t wait to live in the country you guys create,” Cole told the students.
The event at Destin Middle School was held in conjunction with the school receiving a Civil War display on loan free of charge from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. The display, four tall panels telling the story of the Civil War with pictures and text, came to the school through the efforts of fifth-grade teacher Leah McGill.
“I’m a school teacher, so I know a bargain when I hear it,” McGill said.
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