Alabama is a treasure trove of history; for good and ill, it is a place that gives truth to Faulkner’s notion that “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
Few things are as unapologetically steeped in that living history quite like the numerous civil war reenactments in the State.
But though relatively small in number, the descendants of the soldiers who volunteered, were conscripted, or whose service was purchased, remain. Thus, while the scars on the state’s landscape are minimal, the ones left on the psyches of many are far more apparent. And the War still captures the imagination.
Rarely you will rarely find a reckoning with the past quite like in the state’s Civil War reenactments and living history exhibition. There are several to choose from. But, I will highlight two — the Siege of Bridgeport, which is the largest one in the state. And, the Battle for Fort Blakely, commemorating the last great battle of the Civil War. Both were strategically important — one supplied the March to the Sea; the other ended the War.
Founded in the late 1840’s and located in the Tennessee Valley, the community of Bridgeport, Alabama became a hotbed of activity during the War Between the States. A key railroad bridge spanned the Tennessee River at Bridgeport connecting Alabama to Chattanooga and points north and south.
During the early part of the war, the Confederacy controlled Bridgeport and its strategic bridge. Confederate Brigadier General Ledbetter commanded 450 troops to defend the city at a fort situated on Battery Hill approximately 500 yards from the bridge. In April of 1862, Federal forces seized Bridgeport in a fierce battle that lasted over an hour. Union General Mitchell led more than 5,000 troops into Bridgeport forcing General Ledbetter to retreat toward Chattanooga. Over the remaining years of the war Confederate troops unsuccessfully attempted on numerous occasions to regain control of Bridgeport. With the Union controlling the bridge, Bridgeport became the major shipping center for troops and supplies going to General Sherman’s infamous “March to the Sea”. The shipping route from Bridgeport to Chattanooga became known as the “Cracker Line.”
This is a huge affair held on March 23-24 of each year. Over 1500 reenactors, held to meticulous historical standards, come from across the country to relive the vicious siege of a key Union chokepoint. Without taking and maintaining control over Bridgeport on the Tennessee River, the North’s strategic supply line would have been demolished.
For more information, check out the Siege at Bridgeport’s website.
The second one of note is the last major engagement of the Civil War, the final battle of the War between the States at Fort Blakeley — occurring just hours after Lee’s surrender at the Appomattox Courthouse.
Maj. Gen. Edward Canby’s Union forces, moved along the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, forcing the Confederates back into their defenses. Union forces then concentrated on Spanish Fort, Alabama and nearby Fort Blakeley.
By April 1, Union forces had enveloped Spanish Fort, thereby releasing more troops to focus on Fort Blakeley. Union forces built 3 rings of earthworks reaching ever closer until nearly 1,000 yards (910 m) from the Fort Blakely front. Confederate Brig. Gen. St. John R. Liddell, with about 4,000 men, held out against the much larger Union force until Spanish Fort fell on April 8 in the Battle of Spanish Fort.
This allowed Canby to concentrate 16,000 men for the attack on April 9, led by Brig. Gen. John P. Hawkins. Sheer numbers breached the Confederate earthworks, compelling the Confederates, including Liddell, to surrender within about 30 minutes in the final assault after 5:30 pm.
Saturday Hours: 8:00 AM-5:00 PM
Admission: $10 for adults; $5 for children 6-12
More Infomation: (251) 626-0798 or e-mail: BlakeleyPark@aol.com
For lovers of history, the Civil War, and Alabama history, it seems fitting that both the War’s end and the beginning of the end both happened within these borders.
Besides, who doesn’t love a good volley of cannonade.
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