By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal
With every boom of the cannons, more and more bodies of American men littered the small battlefield at Brice’s Crossroads.
As Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest led his Confederate cavalry to the battlefield just outside the tiny town of Baldwyn in June of 1864, he knew claiming a victory against a much larger Union army commanded by Brig. Gen. Samuel D. Sturgis was not going to be easy.
But with the odds stacked against him, Forrest led his cavalry in a bloody day-long battle against the Union troops.
After battle was over, Forrest had defeated Sturgis in one of the most decisive battles in the American Civil War, and it all took place just outside of Baldwyn.
Fast-forward 145 years and the battle is on again. More than 3,000 Civil War re-enactors converged at Brice’s Crossroads on Saturday to re-enact the legendary battle. Even though everyone already knew how the battle ended, enthusiasm and excitement was high.
The field at Brice’s Crossroads was transformed into a 19th century military camp. Dozens of primitive white-cloth tents covered the fields as soldiers from both sides prepared for battle. And aside from the few cars and a truck parked near the battlefield, few signs of the modern world could be found. Everything from the clothes worn by the re-enactors to the way they cooked their food over open fires were from the Civil War period. Horses doubled as battle vehicles and personal transportation for the soldiers.
As he funneled air into his fire, blacksmith David Lowry drew a large crowd of spectators, but he was used to it.
“The blacksmith was probably the most important figure during the Civil War period, said Lowry, who’s from Texas. “They made weapons and various other items needed for everyday life. I just love to participate in these re-enactments and educate people about the time period. I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years and it hasn’t gotten old yet.”
Lowry, whose family is originally from Booneville, said his great-grandfather fought in the original Battle at Brice’s Crossroads.
“This is my first time participating in this re-enactment, but I have family ties to it and the area,” said Lowry. “My great-grandfather fought here, so it’s a good experience for me to be able to come back and be a part of the event.”
Even though she’s only been doing re-enactments for a year, Fran Welling said she was enjoying her trip to Brice’s Crossroads. Welling, a resident of Niceville, Fla., dressed the part of a Southern belle.
“I like to dress up and come get involved in the re-enactments,” said Welling. “I love history and I really enjoy acting it out instead of just reading about it.”
Mike Gray used the re-enactment as a living history lesson for his three children. Because history is boring to a lot of students, Gray said he believed letting them witness it firsthand would be beneficial.
Gray said, “It’s one thing to say hundreds of soldiers died during this battle. But to come out here and hear the cannons blast and see the men laying on the ground is a much better teaching tool. A lot of these young men were the age of my boys when they went to war, so it’s important they see this and understand that war is nothing glamorous.”
Gray’s oldest son, 16-year-old Kaleb, said seeing is definitely believing.
“Walking through the camps and seeing how these soldiers really had to live is amazing,” he said. “You can’t get this from a book. I have a new respect for history, especially this part of it. I think I’m going to stay awake during history class this school year.”
Eventually the North won the Civil War, forever changing the dynamics of the United States. While the majority of soldiers in the war were white, black men did fight. James Knight was one of a few black people who attended the re-enactment, and said he enjoyed what he saw.
“This was great for people of all races to witness,” he said. “This is American history that affected everyone, black and white. I wish more black people had come to see the battle because these guys really worked hard to make it look real. The Confederates won the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads, but at least the Union won the war.”