This weekend marked the annual celebration of Civil War Days by a little town 40 miles west of Campbellsville. Saturday we set out in search of a day steeped in history, seeking to see Union and Confederate soldiers prepare to re-enact the 1862 Battle for the Bridge at Munfordville, and looking forward to the living history camps and performance of period music.
Munfordville was built on the banks of the Green River next to an old buffalo crossing said to be the shallowest point in the Green River between Nashville and Louisville. An iron railroad bridge was completed here in 1859, just in time to make Munfordville a prime point of contention in the coming war. The Confederates won a bloody battle there – combined casualties came to 5,000. The approach of a large Union force convinced the Confederates to leave town only three days later.
Let’s start with the festival’s music. A five piece string band played the tunes of both sides – Dixie, Battle Hymn of the Republic, The Bonnie Blue Flag – strumming and singing them in tune, with feeling! We witnessed the raising and lowering of the Kentucky Confederate flag, and then the 34 starred Stars and Stripes used in 1862. There were rifle salutes by each side, and I was more surprised to see a dozen Eagle Scouts salute the hoisting of the Confederate flag than when one of the Confederates (standing at attention) broke ranks to run over and grab Old Glory off the ground while the Yankee boys struggled to run it up the pole. I wondered about the three females in uniform carrying rifles as members of the Union flag detail, but have no answers for you except a hypothetical “these are different times: women now go to war.”
Some of the Confederates were barefoot in the high 50’s temperature. Back then when their shoes wore out, they had no alternative, but for today’s rebel re-enactors, boots are optional. I asked one of the barefoot fellows how long it took to toughen up his feet to handle the stones and briars. He admitted going shoeless at home when possible, but added “I go into battle barefoot every chance I get. These guys wearing boots have to wear the real thing, what they wore back then, and those damned things have wood soles. You can bust your butt good on a dewy or rainy field.” A gray-bearded soldier in boots agreed, but added “But they save you from brambles, and on a cold day, maybe pneumonia!”
In camp we saw three aged rebels (50’s to 60’s?) cooking meat over a wood fire. They were using a steel grill. The meat bore a suspicious resemblance to prime beef. I asked the mess sergeant (the guy wearing three red stripes wielding tongs) “Is that ‘possum or ‘coon?” “Um, period cookin’, we do. We draw the line at period eatin’. I heard somebody’s missin’ a cow, but yo, I’m servin’ this with collards and grits.”