There’s Still Time to Commemorate Shiloh’s 150th
Recently, my fellow blogger Leah Jennings previewed how to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh.
She’d heard that more than 6,000 re-enactors would be involved, and that folks “from all over the world” would attend the commemorative events, which began with battle re-enactments March 29-April 1, and will continue April 4-8 with a series of special programs presented by the National Park Service.
Our 150-year-old Civil War attracting global attention? Really? With one weekend down, I had to know how the events measured up to the hype.
I spoke with Lee Millar, president of the Battle of Shiloh Association and co-event coordinator for the Blue-Gray Alliance, to find out. He confirmed that there were, in fact: 23,000 spectators at Saturday’s re-enactments (the peak attendance day), 8,000-plus re-enactors and 140 cannons. “That’s the largest collection of Civil War cannons in the western theater since the war,” Lee clarified, adding, “This was the largest re-enactment we’ve ever done.”
Lee wasn’t merely moved by the number of people who showed up. He was moved by the effort they made to be there – and by their commitment to stay. He witnessed spectators in walkers and wheelchairs and with young children. He recounted the stories of two re-enactors who were hurt during the re-enactments – one who required stitches after his own bayonet accidentally gashed his forehead. The men got fixed up by the medics onsite and would have been forgiven had they chosen to call it a day. But they refused to leave the site.
As for those projected visitors from afar? They came from as far away as Alaska, England, France, Germany and Australia.
Apparently, I have a lot to learn about this re-enactment phenomenon.
To start, the significant re-enactments only take place every quarter-century. Lee took that one step further for me: “You take an anniversary like this with the draw of the name Shiloh, and people will come.”
Lee’s first involvement organizing a re-enactment was Shiloh’s 125th anniversary in 1987. But it’s as if the place, or, at least, the history, has always been part of him. He remembers climbing on the cannons during a fourth-grade field trip to Shiloh National Military Park, and learning more about the Civil War a few grades later. That’s when his mom mentioned he had a Confederate ancestor. Some research later, Lee learned he didn’t have just one relation in the “War for Southern Independence,” but several – including Colonel John Singleton Mosby, the elusive “Gray Ghost.”
If you missed last weekend’s re-enactments, note that the Blue-Gray Alliance plans two national re-enactments annually, and you can follow that activity here. For Shiloh, there won’t be another full-scale re-enactment until the battle’s 155th anniversary in 2017. But there’s still a flurry of sesquicentennial activity planned for the latter half of this week and the coming weekend at Shiloh National Military Park (all of it free and open to the public):
- April 4 at 7 p.m., the park’s new film, Shiloh: Fiery Trial, premiers at Pickwick Landing State Park. When I asked park ranger Tom Parson what we should expect from the new film, I got an answer I wasn’t expecting: It seems that Shiloh’s previous film, created in 1956 by the park staff, was the first motion film ever produced in the history of our National Park Service. Fiery Trial was filmed during re-enactments staged April 6-7, 2011, 149 years to the day of the Battle of Shiloh. “I play a corpse in several scenes,” Ranger Tom told me. Lee Millar stars in the film as well, in the role of Union General Don Carlos Buell. The Shiloh Visitor Center will begin regular showings of Fiery Trial on April 6.
- Through April 8, Shiloh National Military Park is hosting a heavy schedule of commemorative programs – from ranger-guided battlefield hikes and car caravan tours to a concert by musician Bobby Horton, whose compositions include the score of Fiery Trial.
And yet for all of the battle cries and cannon fire, perhaps the best conveyance of Shiloh’s solemnity is the Grand Illumination planned for April 7, when 23,746 luminarias, one for each casualty suffered here, will light nine miles of the park’s tour route. Park hours will be extended that evening.
Looking for other ways to commemorate Tennessee’s Civil War heritage? Start planning here. Then tell me about your discoveries.