Civil War re-enactors find Brice's Crossroads a special place to put history in motion

By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

BALDWYN – As lines of visitors waited for wagon rides through the Brice’s Crossroads battlefield on Saturday, Charlie Frank Bush gave them a glimpse of life in 1864.
The 10-month-old Fayette, Ala., baby toyed his wooden duck toy as he displayed period clothes, sewn by his mother, Audra.
“It’s a really good family activity,” said Audra Bush, who made her period dresses, Charlie Frank’s clothes and shirts for her husband, Bryant Bush, who is a member of the artillery unit. The family participates in several re-enactments a year.
“I love researching the clothes and making them,” Bush said.
The events mark the 146th anniversary of the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads. On June 10, 1864, Confederate forces led by Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest defeated a much larger Union force in a bloody day-long battle.
Even though the 2010 event was a smaller affair than the 145th anniversary in 2009, it still drew about 200 of spectators and 50 re-enactors.
“It’s an opportunity for them to see the battlefield that’s been purchased and preserved,” said Edwina Carpenter, curator of the Brice’s Crossroads Visitors Center.
Janice and Austin Duncan of Meridian couldn’t get enough.
“We drove up from Meridian just for this,” Austin Duncan said. “This is our second trip this week.”
Working for history
In the camp and on the battlefield, bringing the history of Brice’s Crossroads to life takes time and persistent effort.
“It’s not just throw up your tent and we’re going to fight, boys,” said Jim Bishop of Baldwyn, who serves as the sergeant major for cavalry division for the Third Tennessee Cavalry of Cleburne’s Division of Reenactors, which hosted Saturday’s living history event.
Bishop, Third Brigade commander Lt. Col. Bobby Ross and a host of volunteers put in months of planning to accommodate re-enactors and share their love of history with the public. They cleared brush, built bridges and chopped firewood.
With the help of re-enactors from Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and beyond, they created a living history re-enactment so the wagon loads of “Confederate refugees” could search for Forrest.
The spectators visited a cavalry camp and artillery battery, witnessed a skirmish with Union forces, chatted with Capt. Bill Forrest and heard from captured Yankee soldiers.
Sam Agnew of Tupelo, who grew a beard and studied the diaries of his great-grandfather, the Rev. Samuel Agnew, delivered a civilian viewpoint during Saturday’s event.
The Rev. Agnew’s family home, which is about three miles northwest of Brice’s Crossroads, was taken over by Union soldiers.
“The house was the last stand of the battle,” said Agnew, who in everyday life serves as the Northern District director for the Mississippi Main Street Association.
The modern Agnew told visitors how his ancestor hid the livestock in the woods as Union soldiers took all the food and nearly all the belongings from the house.
Only the refusal of the Rev. Agnew’s mother to leave the house saved it from being burned.
Anderson Martin of Fulton was impressed by Agnew’s interpretation of his great-grandfather’s account of the war.
“They were fighting in his front yard,” said Anderson Martin, who was accompanied by his father, Kelly.
Love of history
It’s the love of history and the camaraderie among re-enactors that keep them coming back despite the heat and hard work.
“I can see how they lived and live as they lived for a little while,” Bishop said. “It gives me a chance to have wagons and mules and actually use them instead of keeping them in a pasture.”
The re-enactors hold a special regard for Brice’s Crossroads National Battlefield Site because the events take place on the original battlefield.
“We take a lot of pride in Brice’s Crossroads, because it’s sacred ground,” Bishop said.
Bill Cooper of New Albany, who serves as a first sergeant in the provost department, got the re-enacting bug when he was still in high school, attending his first event in 1968.
“At my first event, every uniform was original,” Cooper said.
As they were growing up, his three children would come with him. The other re-enactors would help watch out for them.
“It becomes a family deal.
His two grandchildren are quite big enough for the re-enactments yet, but they can sit in the saddle, Cooper said.
“It won’t be long.”
Contact Michaela Gibson Morris at (662) 678-1599 or michaela.morris@djournal.com.