Area offers chances for living Alabama historyPublished 11:26am Thursday, November 14, 2013
It would have barely taken a half-tank of gas this weekend to be fully immersed in early American history as it happened right in our backyards in Elmore County.
I can’t pretend to have made the full-time road tour. My family made it to the mid-1860s on Saturday for the reenactment of the Civil War Battles for the Armory near Tallassee. But we didn’t make it for Frontier Days in Wetumpka. I’ve taken the family in years past, and I can’t speak highly enough of the experience.
Elmore County and central Alabama is rich in lesser-known American history. Few elementary or high school students could describe off-hand what was happening on the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers around the turn of the 19th century.
Too often our schools are forced to rush through fascinating periods in our state’s and nation’s history to make time to work on ever-scrutinized test scores.
Frontier Days focuses on the earliest days of our state’s exploration, when the French and British vied for control of a crucial waterway – the Coosa. They also rubbed shoulders with the local native American population.
Cannon and musket fire, early spinning and fabric weaving, authentic blacksmithing and the popular reenacted skirmishes between the French and British: The immersion in the turn of the 19th century is complete.
The Battles for the Armory reenacts a little known engagement in the later stages of the Civil War, which is usually described in limited detail with a focus on Gen. Sherman’s fiery demoralizing march or Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. That makes the Tallassee event more noteworthy.
The South won that battle. It was an ultimately meaningless engagement, the defense of the Tallassee Armory on the shores of the Tallapoosa River. After being defeated at Gettysburg and on the defensive against the resurgent Union, a ragtag group of Confederates fought to protect the armory where “Tallassee Carbine” rifles were made in hopes of supplying a Confederate counterattack.
A variety of history buffs don the Blue or the Gray to relive the battle each year. They are the Tallassee Armory Guards of Camp No. 1921 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
On day one of the battle, the armory guards were overwhelmed by the Union forces, as the reenactors depicted Saturday. The local militiamen fought back on the second day, retaking the armory in what would prove a hollow victory for the defeated southerners.
A small tent village springs up around the battlefield, filled with the simple canvas tents of the men, women and children who love history so much they spend their weekends recreating it. There’s even a booming cottage industry of “sutlers” who make or sell period clothing and accessories to intensify the historical experience.
My daughter loves seeing the ladies who dress to the nines in wide-spanning hoop skirts, fine bonnets and parasols. My son cheers at the blast of the muskets and the boom of cannons, and is always excited about the new wooden sword, pistol or rifle he cajoled Daddy into buying.
But more importantly, they take home a rare image of a time long past and a richer knowledge of the people and events that led to the creation of our state and nation.
David D. Goodwin writes a weekly column for The Wetumpka Herald.