‘We come here … but we’ve never seen this’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sharon Sandahl and her 4-year-old son, Charles, got an unexpected, surprise when they visited the Vicksburg National Military Park Saturday afternoon. When they rounded the corner to the Illinois Memorial, 52 men and boys dressed in Confederate uniforms sat with rifles stacked before them on the steps of the iconic momunment.

“This really makes it real,” said Sandahl, who lives in Franklin, Tenn., but grew up in Jackson in a family of Civil War enthusiasts. “The monuments and plaques are great, but to actually see the men in their uniforms really makes it real. We had no idea this was going on, but we’re going to follow them now to the cannon firing.”

The Confederate-clad men were all Civil War re-enactors encamped in the park since Friday. On Saturday they were portraying defenders of Vicksburg during the siege of 1863. They demonstrated Civil War weaponry, drills, cooking and encampment for visitors and were to return to their homes in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and Washington today.

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For re-enactment organizer Pat Landrum of Nashville, talking to visitors like Sandahl and her young son is what performing the living history events in the park is all about.

“There’s only so much people can derive from history books, and I think people get a little more from seeing and touching and smelling the uniforms, weapons and encampments,” said the 26-year-old Landrum, a Gulfport native who now lives in Nashville and has been participating in and organizing re-enactments for more than a decade. “The whole reason for doing these kinds of programs is to get people to stay a little longer at stops they might otherwise pass up and learn a little more.”  

This is the fourth year Landrum and his fellow re-enactors have partnered with the VNMP to put on a living history event in the park, he said. The re-enactors fund the events themselves, and the donate money to the park for its Junior Rangers summer program, which also features living history events. Landrum said they donated about $2,500 to the Junior Rangers last year and hoped to do the same this year.

On Saturday the re-enactors demonstrated at the Battery DeGolyer, and marched down Old Jackson Road as well as the Stockdale Redan before demonstrating rifle and cannon firings in the park.

“If you’ve ever walked in Civil War shoes, you’ll know why they’re marching for about a mile and then stopping for a while,” said Tim Kavanaugh, chief park ranger and park safety officer. “It gives them a little rest and gives us an opportunity to give a little history lesson for the visitors.”

With temperatures topping out in the low 40s Saturday afternoon, visitation for the park was light, said Kavanaugh. However, for those like the Sandahls, the re-enactors made the visit perhaps the most memorable.

“We come here every time we’re in town and pack a lunch and make a day of it,” Sandahl said, “but we’ve never seen this.”


Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicksburgpost.com