Learn lessons of war

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 23, 2010

NATCHEZ — Slavery goes hand in hand with Civil War history, but people sometimes fail to realize the role black Americans played as soldiers — not just subjects — of the war.

A seminar and theatrical production Friday and Saturday, Oct. 29 and 30, aims to allow its audience to view the Civil War with a more historically balanced lens, Friends of the Forks of the Road Coordinator Ser Sesh Ab-Heter-Clifford M. Boxley said.

The third-annual Black and Blue Civil War Living History event features a seminar workshop from noon to 5 p.m. Friday at the council chambers on Pearl Street and a play at noon next Saturday at the Historic Jefferson College.

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Boxley said the three-act play is based on historical stories about former slaves who joined the Union Army, as well as the 1863 account of Natchez woman Elizabeth Dunbar Murray.

Before the play, parents are invited to drop off their children for children’s camp at 10:30 a.m. at the Jefferson College. At the camp, Natchez Trace Parkway District Ranger Patrick Shell will dress up in a U.S. Colored Troop Union Army Uniform to bring a Civil War history lesson to life and teaching children about the meaning of freedom, Boxley said.

The three-act play will feature familiar local thespians, such as Darryl Grennell, the Adams County Board of Supervisors president, Darrell White, the executive director of the Natchez Association for the Preservation of African American History and Culture, Marianne Raley, a George W. Armstrong Library librarian, and more.

Act one, called “Reaction of a Southern belle to Union occupation of Natchez July 13, 1863,” is based on the first-hand account of Elizabeth Dunbar Murray from her book, “My Mother Used to Say.”

Act II, called, “Slavery meets freedom at Forks of Road,” tells the story of slave Daniel Timms and his family’s seven-day trip on foot to Natchez.

In act III, two Jefferson County plantations and Adams County’s Brown Sawmill are used to tell the story of thousands of runaway slaves who fled to freedom behind Union Army lines up and down the Mississippi River in the summer of 1863.

Boxley said the seminar is geared toward government and community leaders, educators, historians and anyone with an interest or ambition to learn more about Civil War history.

Parker Hills, the owner of a leadership training company called Battle Focus, is one of seminar presenters. Hills has conducted tours of battlefields, spoken at other Civil War seminars and authored the book, “A Study in Warfighting: Nathan Bedford Forrest and the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads.” Hills retired from the U.S. military with the rank of Brigadier General in 2001 and has a master’s degree in educational psychology.

Bennie J. McRae, also presenting at the seminar, has published his research in periodicals on the history of United States Colored Troops soldiers, sailors and contrabands in the Civil War.

Jim Woodrick, the acting director of the Historic Preservation Division of the Mississippi Department of Education, will also present.

Woodrick served as the department’s Civil War sites historian in past years. Woodrick has in recent years focused on the raids and expeditions of the Civil War, Vicksburg campaign, which involved many black Union troops.

Boxley invited the Natchez Board of Aldermen and Adams County Board of Supervisors to attend the seminar at the boards’ meetings this month.

He said restoring the memory of the black experience during the Civil War and creating an equal historical representation is an important duty of a leader.