With saber drawn, social studies teacher Ben Hartnell was an imposing presence as a Confederate officer leading the troops in a march across the practice field at Westerville North High School during a Civil War re-enactment May 22.

With saber drawn, social studies teacher Ben Hartnell was an imposing presence as a Confederate officer leading the troops in a march across the practice field at Westerville North High School during a Civil War re-enactment May 22.

Just as the students mustered, clad in the blue of the Union and gray of the Confederates, the sound of a mountain howitzer cannon being fired echoed across the field.

Some students jumped, while others screamed and ducked.

"It scared the crap out of me," freshman Justin Bradford said.

It was a signal of what was to come for the next hour or so.

The students were taught the commands and given their marching orders by Hartnell.

"They'll march in lines reminiscent of early battles of the Civil War," he said prior to the event.

Generals, according to Hartnell, realized midway through the War Between the States that using Britain's old linear lines for battle was suicidal because of the accuracy of the rifles at the time.

"In fact," he said, "Antietam marked the last usage by major combatants of linear warfare in North America."

The re-enactment involved 282 students and 28 slingshots made of giant rubber bands that were used to launch 3,000 water balloons. Members of the 1st Ohio State House Battery provided sound effects and billowing smoke as they fired the mountain howitzer cannon.

Science teacher Dave Weaner worked with the artillery members this year on angles and loft for pitching the water balloons.

Hartnell said he has wanted to include the cannons every year since initiating the re-enactment, but did not secure the permits from the city until this year.

Donna Ryan, whose children, Regina and Sam, were two of Hartnell's students, urged him to use cannons.

Ryan, who is active in re-enactment groups, served as the liaison with the 1st Ohio State House Battery and her daughters led the cannon demonstration at the close of the battle.

When some of the students complained that it was hard to see through the smoke, Hartnell explained that was why British soldiers wore bright red uniforms during the American Revolution and in other wars.

He told his students before they ever stepped foot on the field that there would be no ducking or trying to escape the water balloons: They were to stand in place as the balloons assailed them because they could not duck bullets.

Afterward, Hartnell pointed out that some of his students quickly realized that by standing sideways, they were less likely targets.

Members of the 1st Ohio State House Battery, dressed as Yankees, fired muskets and rifles as students pitched balloons by hand at one another representative of gunfire.

Bob Letts, a Confederate officer with the 1st Ohio State House Battery, the 5th Kentucky and 5th Texas Calvary, rode his mule, Fred, back and forth across the field, watching the students exchange volleys.

"This is the wildest thing I've ever seen," he said, explaining that he was not sure what to expect when he was invited to the school to lend authenticity to the experience. "I think they're having a lot of fun. Hopefully, it will spark some interest."

Hartnell has been putting on the demonstration since he arrived at the Westerville high school in 2001.

"I wanted to bring history to life," he said, "but I also wanted to demonstrate the ferocity of a linear battle to my students."

Without resorting to movies or a lecture, he said he wanted to demonstrate why the style of fighting needed to change.

Hartnell said the first re-enactment in the spring of 2002 of an American Revolution battle only involved a total of 60 students.

Mason Howard and Tony Thompson decided the night before the re-enactment to play the role of Irishmen who joined both the Northern and Southern ranks during what Letts called the "Great Rebellion." They ran the lines of the Union troops with their Irish flag and gave the Rebels a view of the plaid boxers they wore under their kilts.

Yet another student wore a green jacket and carried a matching water canteen from which he sipped during the re-enactment.

Hartnell said several of the units sported their own colors.

Steve Derringer, a fifth-grade social studies teacher at nearby Robert Frost Elementary, led his students over to watch as the North won the battle for the first time.

At the end, 107 Confederate soldiers had fallen, along with 51 Yankees.

"I give my students two hours they'll never forget," said Hartnell.