Smoke, booms fill the air in Civil War reenactment

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 2, 2001

NATCHEZ – The boom of cannons broke the silence on the grassy field, sending plumes of thick smoke into the air.

Confederate and Union commanders barked orders to their troops, and the sharp crack of musket fire followed.

The next sounds that were heard were the cries of two wounded Union soldiers who fell face down on the ground.

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But in this case, the fighting was followed by the applause of the crowd. Welcome to the sixth annual Civil War reenactment at Historic Jefferson College.

Saturday’s skirmish was a reenactment of Confederate General Wirt Adams and his troops’ battle with Federal forces outside of Natchez on Dec. 7, 1863. Another reenactment will take place at 1 p.m. today and is free to the public.

About 50 men and women from as far away as Texas gathered at the site this weekend to take part in the event. For them, the attraction of reenactment is a mix of friendship, history and heritage.

Billy Johnson of Farmerville, La., has been reenacting for 20 years, ever since he was 12 years old. His father got him into the pastime; now Johnson’s wife and two small children also take part in the events.

&uot;I enjoy the camping and the fellowship. You make lifelong friends,&uot; said Johnson, a member of the 1st Louisiana Regiment U.S. who works as a history teacher. &uot;And it allows people to see a side of history that’s not how Hollywood portrays it.

&uot;You can read about Lee, Jackson and Grant, but the guys that shouldered the muskets were the ones that did the fighting. The bravery on both sides was tremendous,&uot; Johnson said.

Clark Burkett, Historic Jefferson College historian and coordinator of the annual event, is a longtime reenactor. He said living like soldiers of the period did makes him appreciate what they went through.

&uot;It makes you realize how soft we’ve become,&uot; Burkett said. &uot;They wouldn’t take baths for months, they had insects and disease – and they didn’t know each moment whether they’d live or die.&uot;

With only two years of reenactments under his belt, Chuck Mayfield of Natchez is a relative newcomer – but he has already become part of the fellowship.

For Mayfield, a member of the 1st Louisiana Cavalry, reenacting is a pastime he can share with his horse, Cheyenne. &uot;And you can learn a lot about history,&uot; Mayfield said.

Amie Rhoden of Jackson has been reenacting for seven years. In fact, she and her fianc\u00E9, who portrayed a Union soldier in Saturday’s battle, are planning a Civil War-style wedding.

&uot;For me, it’s the people you meet. We have mechanics, EMTs, doctors, lawyers and nurses all here together,&uot; said Rhoden, who is a social worker. &uot;You can get together without having to worry about your outside lives.&uot;

&uot;For me, it’s honoring our ancestors,&uot; said Christine Powers of Baton Rouge, La., who has been reenacting for three years. Seven of her ancestors fought in the Civil War, but only six came back.

Dressed in period clothing all weekend, participants not only took part in the battle, but also lived in tents on the grounds and cooked their food over campfires.

The women who took part in the weekend’s events decorated one of the college’s buildings with Civil War era-type Christmas decorations.

There was even a concert by the 12th Louisiana String Band following Saturday’s reenactment and a soiree that night.