Kennesaw celebrates Memorial Day with Civil War re-enactment
by Megan Thornton
May 28, 2013 12:01 AM | 3147 views | 2 2 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Actors in Civil War-style garb shoot off a cannon at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park on Memorial Day.
Actors in Civil War-style garb shoot off a cannon at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park on Memorial Day.
KENNESAW — Honoring the nation’s fallen soldiers was less of a solemn, quiet experience at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefied Park, and more of a loud boom and a cloud of smoke, as park attendees were treated to live artillery demonstrations.

The cannon was fired four times Monday afternoon on the battlefield, and a Civil War era re-enactment featured actors playing the roles of Union soldiers fighting the Confederate Army from 1861 to 1865.

About 60 visitors watched as the group of men shot off the cannon just after the park’s flag was raised from half-staff to full-staff at noon, marking a Memorial Day tradition.

“It is the day in which we honor the memory of those persons who gave their lives in service to this country,” park historian Willie Johnson said.

The “living history,” as Johnson called it, gives people a more real way to connect with themes from the nation’s past.

“You can look at all the stuff in there,” Johnson said, pointing to the museum inside the visitor center. “But here, you can put your hands on it. You can see it being used. Which I think gives you a step up on just a static display.”

Johnson, who was decked out in full uniform including a thick wool jacket and wide-brimmed leather hat, described life during the war as a nearby train rolled by.

“Keep in mind where it’s running,” he shouted over the train’s whistle. “That rail line is the reason the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain took place.”

Johnson, who has participated in local re-enactments for 39 years, said during the Civil War, Confederate forces had control of the railroad, and the battles in the area were centered on the fight for access to rail lines.

“Our forces would have wanted to have used that railroad as our supply line and to get the Confederate forces off of the supply line,” Johnson said.

After explaining the train’s history, Johnson jumped into an attention-grabbing history lesson about the evolution of the cannonball.

The concept evolved from a basic heavy metal ball in the 1790s, when an English officer developed a thinner outer shell casing that used less gunpowder and had musketballs inside, which increased the number of enemy casualties, Johnson said.

“Now when I explode it, not only do you have the fragments of the shell proper taking out a number of folks, but you’ve got all those musketballs as well,” Johnson said. “This was one of the more widely-used rounds in the American Civil War at this stage of the campaign.”

Former Cobb teacher still teaching

Johnson also walked the audience through the lengthy process of a gun detachment, which included eight men, who were all required to fire a single cannon. The various members were responsible for preparing the ammunition, ramming in the powder, directing and calling the shot — a process which took a couple of minutes to complete one round.

Johnson is no stranger to local history. He taught at South Cobb High School for 23 years and Harrison High School for seven years before he became the park’s historian.

“I think it’s important for people to gain appreciation of what soldiers were going through at that time,” Johnson said.

Also on the battlefield was a re-creation of a small encampment where the actors spent the weekend preparing meals and talking with the public about their clothing and equipment, what Johnson called “the essentials of life” for a Civil War-era soldier.

Passing on a tradition

Both Army veterans, Mark and Shannon Dotson from Acworth said they took their two sons Talan, 5, and Bayne, 3, out to the park to show respect on the national holiday.

“This was an idea of ours to come out here because we know there was a battle fought here,” said Mark Dotson, a former military policeman.

Mark said the battle strategy during the Civil War was far more complex than he had ever considered.

“I had no idea it took an eight-man crew” to shoot a cannon, he said. “And then, coming to find out the conditions they were living under. Even on the battlefield, the conditions they lived in is just way below anything we could even imagine,” he said.

“And we thought MREs were bad,” joked Shannon Dotson, who was a former Army nurse.

“As we sit in the comforts of our day and enjoying our freedoms, it’s about remembering the sacrifices,” Mark Dotson said. “True sacrifices, true courage, true valor and true perseverance.”

Pappy Harmon, one of the re-enactors and a U.S. Air Force veteran who served during the Cuban Missile Crisis, said he appreciates taking part in reminding people of Civil War history.

“You don’t hear about the kind of sacrifices and what they (Civil War veterans) went through,” Harmon said. “A lot of them were crippled, a lot of them were deaf and they had a lot of injuries.”

Harmon said many of these lessons from the past are still valuable today.

“The important lesson of the Civil War was we came together as a nation,” Harmon said. “We need to remember we are a stronger nation because of that. We bled and died, but we are stronger because of it.”
Comments-icon Post a Comment
Southern patriot
May 28, 2013
"About 60 visitors watched as the group of men shot off the cannon"

I don't expect journalists to know much about guns, after all they're anathema to the liberal mindset. They could at least get the terminology correct. These men did not "shoot off" the cannon, they "fired" the cannon.

Lib in Cobb
May 29, 2013
60 visitors, an indication of how popular these re-enactments of a war fought long ago have become.

We should honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice, not all who have died in our wars were voluntary participants. Not all wars were just.

OK, I think the author should use the correct terminology.
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