Jackson County Times

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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Darn It!...We Lost Again!!

Historical Battle of Marianna Is Reenacted On The Streets Of Marianna, Where It Happened 145 Years Ago By Sid Riley

The “Marianna Day Fall Festival” which was held this past weekend was a resounding success, with an estimated 2000 attendees, an educational program which involved over 700 local students, and a menu of historical and cultural events which denoted our heritage and history, and two days filled with great music, food, and shopping. Event organizers were pleased with the overall participation over the two day event.

“We started the planning process for the event a little late, so we did not have time to do everything we would have done, but when you look at the total schedule of activities, we had great success”, stated Lionel Young, Organizing Committee Chairman. “Next year we will have more time to get parade participation lined up, and will have more time to get the word out to more communities over a larger drawing area.”

The event began on Friday with bus load after bus load delivering over 700 students to the educational exhibits and seminars conducted by the re-enactors as a “living history” exhibit of how every day needs were accomplished back in the 1850’s. These covered everything from a field hospital, to cooking, keeping clean, brushing teeth, wearing apparel, weapons, and how to load a cannon. Students came from as far away as Washington County. This very worthwhile element of the festival agenda was headed by Paige Creel.

Friday afternoon and evening, the vendors were busy while local musicians entertained the crowd.

Then things really began popping on Saturday morning. At nine o’clock the United Daughters of the Confederacy conducted a stirring memorial ceremony at Confederate Park in downtown Marianna, at the site of the Confederate Memorial Monument. This monument recognizes the valor and heroism of those who fought in defense of Marianna in 1864, and the fourteen who lost their lives in that effort. Nadine Standland was the Committee representative for this part of the festival activities.

At Saturday’s memorial service, as each of the ten names was called by Dr. Theopilus West, portrayed by Homer Hirt, a re-enactor portrayer stepped forward and told who he was, how he was killed during the battle, and where he is buried. It was stirring to hear the young teenager, Woody Nickels age 16, tell of his death, as well as Frank Allen, the 76 year old Greenwood deacon.

The memorial was followed by the parade. This event had around twenty five entries, highlighted by the Marianna Marching Band, and the local detachment of the Buffalo Soldiers, mounted as cavalry. Many of the local beauty queens rode atop beautiful automobiles and waved at the crowd as they passed. Among these was Alicia Hatcher, Miss National Peanut Festival.

Immediately after the parade, the historical re-enactment of the Battle of Marianna began, with over 120 uniformed and period dressed re-enactors participating. As the detachment of Union Soldiers rounded the bend in formation at Ely’s corner near the Russ House, one could not help but sense what the residents of Marianna mush have felt as they first viewed the oncoming invaders under the command of General Alexander Asboth.

The defenders waited behind a wagon and a hastily made barricade as the Yankees marched toward them on Lafayette Street. When the margin between the forces became reasonable, Colonel Alexander Montgomery gave the order to fire, and a blistering volley of rifle balls peppered the invaders. This initiated the battle.

As the Union force continued to advance, Montgomery ordered his defenders to fall back and reload. After each reload was completed, another order to fire sent a deadly volley down Lafayette. The Union forces continued their regimented return fire and advance. As the retreating defenders were in the street before the Episcopal Church, a second force of Union soldiers appeared in the street behind the retreating Home Guard force. Now they were caught between forces, receiving gunfire from both directions. This simulated the situation the actual defenders found themselves in when they retreated into the cemetery area behind the church on that terrible September morning in 1865. This was where most of the fatalities occurred.

In Saturday’s re-enactment, realizing the futility of continued opposition, Montgomery surrendered his sword in defeat to Asboth, and the captured Home Guard fighters were led as prisoners down Lafayette towards the court house.

As the prisoners and captors neared the center of town, they were attacked by another small contingent from the home guard, but after a brief skirmish at the court house, they too were defeated. (In the actual battle, the remaining portion of the local force managed to pull up the planking from the Chipola River Bridge while the local cavalry unit delayed the invaders. They managed to reach the East bank of the River and escape capture.)

After lunch, the blue grass festival cranked up out at Citizens Lodge Park. There were five different professional “Blue Grass Bands” which entertained until nine o’clock Saturday evening. The vendors were all selling food and wares, including several “sutler” venders who sold hand made items from the Civil War era. Meanwhile, inside the Citizens Lodge the Artist Guild of Northwest Florida had local art work on display.

At four o’clock the re-enactors took center stage again, this time in the fields of the park where they again staged a mock battle between a southern detachment, and a union detachment, accompanied by a cavalry support. Both sides also had an artillery force which repeatedly shot cannons at each other, with each shot landing and exploding in a very realistic pyrotechnic display. For over an hour the cannons, rifles, and pistols of the South fought against those of the North. No one is sure who actually won in this battle.

With the cannons repeatedly exchanging fire, and the foot soldiers marching and staging repeated encounters, while the cavalry unit charged into the foot soldiers with pistols blazing, it gave the observers a real feeling of being on a Civil War battlefield and facing combat. It was not a place you would have wanted to be.

Many of those who attended the events of the festival stated that they left with an enriched knowledge of what our ancestors accomplished, what their lives were really like, and a deepened appreciation for the horror of that terrible era in American History. It is estimated that approximately 2000 attended the two day event, not including the 700 area students who had a great field trip which increased their knowledge of the Civil War period.

The formation of a Fall Festival had been a goal of several local leaders, including Chuck Hatcher, Director Of Parks and Recreation for the County, and Charlotte Bruner, Director of Main Street Marianna. Similarly, others who are involved with the history of our area including Robert Daffin, Ashley Pollette, Stan Peacock, Larry Clere, and Sid Riley had wished to organize a reenactment of the Battle of Marianna. Chuck Hatcher then realized that if the two groups were combined, a meaningful fall festival event could be created.

Organizers were very pleased with the event. “We want to especially thank the TDC, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, Marianna City Commissioners, Main Street Marianna, and Jackson County Parks and Recreation for their great support,” stated Lionel Young. “We look forward to making the event even bigger and better next year.”

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