Snapshot of Civil War life at Battle for Decatur re-enactment
By Catherine Godbey, Staff Writer, The Decatur Daily
What’s more entertaining than dressing in wool uniforms, cooking without electricity and living in the 19th century? For Jim and Cathy Wilson, nothing.
About eight weekends each year, the Lacey’s Spring couple leaves their comfortable clothing, stable shelter and modern-day technology behind to travel across the Southeast from North Carolina to Georgia as Civil War re-enactors.
“Re-enactments are living history presentations. They are a way to portray life as it actually was during the Civil War, so that our children and grandchildren can understand what took place and what their ancestors went through,” said Jim Wilson, a member of the 1st Alabama Cavalry, Company G, Wheeler’s Escort.
This weekend, while some families celebrate the long Labor Day holiday with barbecues and boating, the Wilsons will celebrate by re-creating the Battle for Decatur.
At Point Mallard on Saturday and Sunday the ground will shake, the air will fill with smoke and men will fall just as they did 146 years ago on the banks of the Tennessee River, the current location of Old Decatur.
“This is our history,” said Larry Thomson, a member of the Sons of the Confederacy. “This is what happened right here in Decatur when the Confederate and Union troops fought in 1864.”
Created from memoirs, personal accounts and historical documents, the re-enactment details the four-day battle that ended with a Union victory where thousands of men fought and 605 men died.
The battle, acted out by more than 200 re-enactors from across the southeastern United States, will feature cannons, horses and gunpowder, bringing to life the history typically relegated to words and paintings in 1,000-page social studies textbooks. In this battle, however, the North will win Saturday and the South will win Sunday.
“This was one of our nation’s most interesting periods. It shaped the country forever,” Wilson said. “Most people don’t know that 2 percent of the U.S. died during the war, either through battle or disease. Our main objective is to bring to light to the public the reality of the events that transpired at that time.”
As a fifth-grader in Rossville, Ga., Wilson learned of the reality as he toured the battlefields of northeastern Georgia.
“As a Boy Scout I hiked to all of the battlefields in the Chickamauga campaign. That piqued my interest in what went on in the battles and how the soldiers lived,” Wilson said.
Eight years ago, Wilson turned his passion into a hobby and joined the 1st Alabama Cavalry. After six months of listening to him rave about the events, Cathy Wilson accompanied her husband to the re-enactments — a frequent occurrence during the Civil War when the men were not on a campaign.
“People don’t realize sometimes women joined their husbands, who were mostly commanding officers, at the garrison camps,” Jim Wilson said. “At the re-enactments my wife cooks and dresses just like the women of that time did. She goes to the ladies’ tea and we go to the dance together. It is a snapshot of what life for troops and their families was like.”
Along with the re-enactments, Civil War relics, mounted cavalry patrols, garrison camps and performances by the 5th Alabama military band will transport visitors from the 21st century of laptops and cell phones to the mid-19th century.
“People will hear cannons, and if you’ve never heard a cannon before it is quite an experience,” said Thomson, who described himself as a “lowly infantryman” with five years of experience. “There will be horses, cowboying, authentic food, instructors teaching dance at the Military Ball and troops in period dress.”
“Some of the seasoned re-enactors look like they stepped right out of 1864,” Jim Wilson added. “It looks like they were just dug out from a real battle and dusted off.”
Thomson expects about 4,000 spectators to attend the weekend festival.
Events will kick off Friday morning, with a school session for local children.
“We will put the kids and their teachers through drills the troops would go through. We hope to have music from the Morgan County Dulcimer Association. We will also explain to the kids about the battle and its importance in the war,” Thomson said.
On Saturday, organizers scheduled a ladies’ tea and a Military Ball. The Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau will host a free guided waling tour Saturday of locations key to the battle. All of the events are free.
The 32nd annual Battle for Decatur is hosted by the 13th Alabama Partisan Rangers, the 6th Alabama Cavalry, 4th Alabama Cavalry Company F, and Camp 580 Sons of Confederate Veterans.
“We want everyone who comes to feel like they are actually in 1864 and living through the Civil War,” Thomson said. “This should be a great show for the entire family.”
If you go
What: 32nd annual Battle for Decatur Civil War Re-enactment
Where: Point Mallard Park
Cost: Free admission to all events.
9:30 a.m.: Ladies’ Tea at the Point Mallard Chapel
10 a.m.-1 p.m.: Camps open to the public
2 p.m.: Battle re-enactment
3-5 p.m.: Camps open to the public
3:30 p.m.: Guided walking tour through Old Decatur
7 p.m.: Military Ball at the Point Mallard Chapel
10 a.m.- p.m.: Camps open to the public
2 p.m.: Battle re-enactment
3-5 p.m.: Camps open to the public.