Union soldier re-enactors breached Fort McAllister on Saturday to recreate a Civil War battle that happened 150 years ago when Confederate soldiers occupied the fort. The 1864 overtaking of the fort, four months before the war’s end, famously is known for bringing Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea” to end.
More than 300 re-enactors participated in the battle re-enactment to give visitors a realistic taste of the conflict between the North and the South.
“We wanted to give people an once-in-a-lifetime experience,” park ranger Shirley Rowe said. “We try to make it as accurate as possible so people can see how life really was like at that time.”
Only the most professional and experienced re-enactors are chosen for the historic park’s largest Civil War re-enactment, she added. This ensures the authenticity of the battle and adds to the quality of event.
“Each year, we try to include new aspects to make the event even better,” Rowe said. “This one is going to be hard to beat.”
Gathering re-enactors, mapping out the logistics and preparing the park take a whole year of planning, the ranger said. This year, coordinators turned the event into a three-day experience. It began Thursday, as Union soldiers set up camp at the Richmond Hill Museum. They embraced every aspect of 1860s soldier life by dressing in full uniform and equipping themselves with canteens and muskets. The following day, the soldiers marched from the intersection of Highway 144 and Fort McAllister Road to the park to re-enact the actual route Sherman took from Atlanta. In two hours, the re-enactors and their accompanying drummer marched 4 miles in full gear. As they trekked in, Confederate soldiers back at Fort McAllister prepared for the battle.
“It was such a fascinating time in history,” Rowe said. “Recreating the actual scene as it looked 150 years ago impacts the visitors much more than just reading it in a history book … it’s just so realistic.”
Throughout the day Saturday, visitors watched skirmishes between the troops as they fired muskets and cannons. The festivities ended with the Union forces invading the fort and taking Confederates as prisoners.
“Sherman was trying to come near the coast so his army can be resupplied,” living-history interpreter Talley Kirkland said. “He traveled from Atlanta with 60,000 men, but only deployed 4,000 of them to storm the fort.”
Confederate Maj. George Anderson commanded 230 troops at the fort at that time, he added. When Sherman captured the fort, he took Anderson and his soldiers as prisoners. Once they captured this fort, Sherman’s plan was to take Savannah, but that wasn’t necessary because the war was coming to an end, Kirkland said.
“The fact that Sherman was able to march through Georgia with 60,000 men in three weeks and with little opposition was proof that the Confederates were just done for,” the interpreter said. “The Confederates had been fighting for four long years, so this battle just showed that the war was at its end.”
Fort McAllister’s fall marks an important time in the region’s history that will not be forgotten any time soon.
“We need to honor the people on both sides,” Talley said. “There were strong feelings on both sides, and both sides truly believed in what they were fighting for.”
History buffs from around the nation and other countries ask to participate in the re-enactment each year, according to Rowe. Seven re-enactors from Germany took part in this year’s battle, while others traveled from North Georgia and surrounding states to get in on the act.
“I just really like learning about history and taking part in events like this,” said first-time participant Matt Kirschner, 16, who portrayed a Union soldier. He came from North Georgia to participate and has been re-enacting for over a year. “I think it’s really important to remember our history, because just like that famous quote says, ‘If you don’t know your history, you are doomed to repeat it.’”