Alabama Public Radio is looking back on the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Mobile Bay. It was on August 5, 1864 when the engagement helped to both seal the fate of the Confederacy, and put Abraham Lincoln into a second term in office. The APR news team is examining Alabama’s role in the Civil War in 1864. For some, the conflict has turned into an expensive hobby that can get pretty loud…
“It’s one of the best. It’s not really as big as some of the others. But they consider themselves, but they do a great job on the realism.” When it comes to Civil War re-enactments, Terry Alley considers himself a connoisseur. The Rome, Georgia man is tromping along a muddy path in an open field on this rainy Saturday. His two sons are toting their Iphones today, but most of the people surrounding us aren’t. Alley says that’s the point…
“I’m a history teacher. So, I like the realism. I taught about half the re-enactors. I tell them they better get it right or I’ll get you the next time I have you in class.”
The rolling hills here are dotted by white canvas tents. Inside are men and women all in Civil War period costumes. The men are in military uniforms, many of the ladies are wearing hoop skirts and bonnets. The whole scene is located just over the border between Alabama and Georgia near a little town called Resaca.
“The story goes, the women here are so ugly, they had to “re-sack her," says Ken Padgett. History teacher Terry Alley may train today’s re-enactors, but Padgett bosses them around. He’s the General in charge of this re-enactment of the Battle of Resaca. It took place one hundred and fifty years ago today. “We’re got folks from California, Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio. Nearly every state in the nation is represented here. As it was during the war.”
Roughly one hundred troops are forming an infantry line. They’re all wearing the gray uniforms of the Confederacy. In another spot, other re-enactors are in Union blue—they call them Federals here. These are the two-legged participants. Others have four… “Okay, man with the beard--bring up buddy!” shouts the squad leader with a Union artillery unit. Buddy is a dark red horse who will lead a team of six horses pulling a caisson. It’s a wagon with a six foot long black cannon complete with ammunition.
“A couple of our horses…this will be their first re-enactment," says Steve Cameron of Blaine, Tennessee. He's the Captain of this artillery unit. “We’ve trained with them quite a bit. But this is their first time out. It’ll be interesting to see how that goes.” When he’s not playing the part of a Civil War soldier, Cameron builds cannons for a living. He says the wagon that Buddy will help pull carries more than just gunpowder … “Everything from sythes and shovels and picks and axes, and grain bags, and spare harnesses. And leather making tools, wood working tools, metal working tools to keep a battery in the field.”
Cameron’s heavy blue uniform includes Captain’s bars on the shoulders and a cavalry sword hanging from a broad leather belt. He and his fellow re-enactors wear authentic eye glasses, sleep in authentic tents, and even eat hardtack they bring with them. This begs an obvious question. Where do they get all this stuff? Cameron’s answer is simple. The settler’s tent…
“It’s kind of like Walmart, you know. You basically order whatever you need.”
The settler’s tent doesn’t have a senior citizen greeting you at the door like Walmart, and there’s no blue light special like K-Mart. But, there is Chuck Johnson. He runs the place… “We have everything from their toe to their head…” Johnson takes us past piles of mid-19th century style shoes, uniform jackets, pants, hats, swords. There’s even stuff for modern day tourists like books or CD’s with Civil War music. There are also souvenir buttons with little pictures of generals like Grant, Lee, or Stonewall Jackson. “My tents come from the Amish," says Johnson. "I have people in Alabama, North Carolina, and Florida who do my sewing for me. I have stuff from the northeast, just all over the country.” A starter’s kit for a rookie re-enactor can run two thousand dollars, with perhaps the biggest single expense being the rifle. Johnson says each side has a favorite… “Confederates tend to go toward the Enfields. Federals like more like the Springfields. There were more Confederates who used the Enfields since they came in through the blockades. The Springfields were produced up north.”
The re-enactors don’t use real bullets. Still, it’s the shooting everyone comes for… “And the most important thing is kind of watching the battlefield, Remember Terry Alley, the history teacher from Rome, Georgia? He and his family are about to head off to find a viewing spot on the rolling hills overlooking the battlefield. “So you see the horses, the messengers, you see the cannon, the riflemen, and all that…” And Alley’s favorite part?
“Umm, I think the cannon. When the cannons start going off, it’ll rattle your teeth.”
As the battle reached , General Ken Padgett explains just what the re-enactors are re-enacting. “Well, the battle took place between Confederate general Joe Johnston, and the federal army of William T. Sherman. The Confederate forces were heavily entrenched here at Resaca. And, the Federal troops attack this position and suffered heavy casualties. There were about fifty five hundred casualties over a two day period here. " Spotting either side from the audience today is easy. The Union troops wear blue and the Confederates wear gray, right? Well, tomorrow on APR we’ll talk about an Alabama cavalry unit that fought in the actual battle of Resaca in 1864—but which side they fought for might surprise you. You can listen to this story on the battle of Resaca, Monday on Alabama Public Radio.