Man refuses to surrender Civil War re-enactment

April 12, 2009

SELMA — The Confederacy may have surrendered 144 years ago, but a descendant of three gallant Southern soldiers is not giving up his fight to save an event that commemorates one of the last clashes of the Civil War.

At one time, the Battle of Selma re-enactment was among Alabama’s most popular April tourist attractions as Reb and Yankee "troops" re-created a battle that took place in the waning days of the war.

Declining attendance in participants and spectators led directors to wave the white flag earlier this year and call off the 2009 version of the event. Apparently, it was one of those "forever" decisions.

Galloping to the rescue is James Hammonds who has helped promote the re-enactment since its inception. He also commands an artillery unit named for Jefferson Davis.

"This is too important to us and to history to stop," he said as he toured an area near where the actual battle took place on April 2, 1865, when a large contingent of experienced Union troops overwhelmed a defensive position held by old men and boys.

A successful businessman and history buff, Hammonds began efforts to save the re-enactment almost as soon as the sponsoring group canceled it. One of the first things he did was incorporate the "April 1865 Society Inc."

One of his favorite Civil War books is "April 1865: The Month That Saved America." He felt it would be an appropriate name for his group because he and those helping him are trying their best to save the re-enactment.

This year’s event begins Friday with "School Day" at the park, followed by two days of demonstrations, military tactics, a ball at historic Sturdivant Hall and the "battle" at 2 p.m. April 19.

The re-enactment has had its ups and downs since the first one in 1987. Rain wiped out one show. On another occasion, motorcycle racing replaced it at the same site.

Hammonds is determined to save the re-creation of a major moment in Alabama history. There were few Civil War battles in the state and Selma was one of the most important.

The town was one of only two arsenals supplying weapons for Confederate troops. When the Yankees arrived, the war was long lost for the South and the raid was more punitive than strategic.

As so happens with many community events, there are good and there are bad years. Hammonds believes he and his friends can pull the re-enactment out of its slump.

"I’m calling this a rebuilding year," he said. "It’ll be similar to Auburn’s football team. They’ve got a new coach and a new spirit. I can see that happening here, too."

Since Hammonds is one of Alabama’s most ardent Auburn football fans, his efforts to save The Battle of Selma re-enactment make him the "coach." His game plan is simple:

"We just need to spread the word, and it’s looking good right now," he said. "We’ve only had a few weeks to get the battlefield in shape, but it is looking good. Re-enactors from around the South are coming. We’re hoping that several hundred will be here."

He and his "troops" are spending long days at the site, but they feel it’s a worthwhile mission.

Mayor George Evans, in office only a few months, is making the event one of his priority projects.

Civil War re-enacting is an expensive hobby.

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