Sunday, May 16, 2010

Resaca 2010: Of mules, men and chicken

The Battle of Resaca in northwest Georgia is perhaps the prettiest re-enactment site I’ve encountered in the past year. Camps rest atop the rolling, verdant hills at the venue off Chitwood Road. A cool natural spring is close by, offering a respite from the humid afternoons. Some scenes from May 15:

Ken Wammack of Tallahassee remembers the day his wife talked him into attending an event at Florida’s Natural Bridge.

“When I parked the car I could hear the guns,” he recalls.

The mustachioed Navy retiree and current insurance man was hooked. Wammack is now in his third year with the North Florida Artillery, serving as a gun sergeant. He attends about eight events a year.

Saturday, he and four other members of the artillery crew performed a drill before the afternoon’s battle.

A recent incident in Plymouth, N.C., resulting in the injury of two re-enactors, was on the crew’s mind as it went through the paces. Participants talked about safety steps, including quickly covering the ventilation hole after a round is fired so that air can’t stoke embers into life.

Black powder provides the power for the pieces. Part of the $8 per shot is covered by the event sponsor. “We follow the powder ration,” Wammack quips.


You can lead a mule to a battle, but you can’t make him stay.

Stronger than horses, Civil War mules provided a valuable service for armies, carrying supplies, camp equipment and more.

But because they are a little more headstrong, they knew better than to work near bullets.

“There was self-preservation going on,” says mule driver Mark Simpson of Lawrenceburg, Ky., who participated at Resaca with his family. “A mule would think, ‘I’m not going to do that.’’’

Saturday, Simpson and his two-mule team, John and Sassy, made their way around the camp.

Later in the afternoon, the team brought much-needed water to the hundreds of re-enactors during the afternoon battle.

Simpson and wife, Beverly, their two children and friend Terre Lawson of Tuscaloosa camped near a small pond at Resaca. They cooked their own meals, including chicken hanging from a string over an open fire.

Civil War wagon and mule drivers were “on the low end of the social totem pole,” says Simpson.

This group was anything but coarse. They enjoy the company of fellow wagoners and visitors who stop by.


Resaca was the first of nine major battles in the Atlanta Campaign. Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston used his 55,000 troops to hold off some 112,000 Federals on May 14-15, 1864.

Although he was forced to evacuate after the battle, Johnston had begun what historian Shelby Foote referred to as the “Red Clay Minuet” with Union Gen. William Sherman, giving up ground grudgingly.

Among the Union’s famous generals at Resaca was Gen. Joseph Hooker of the XX Corps. He held the extreme left of the Union line, a short walk from the main re-enactment camp.

I spent a few minutes with members of the Spalding Grays (Co. D, 2nd Battalion, Ga. Volunteer Infantry) who had trudged to Nance’s Spring for a water stop before the afternoon battle.

Thousands of Yankee troops filed past the springs and filled their canteens during a warm summer day in 1864. Hooker’s men held positions on a hill above the springs. I huffed and puffed my way to the top.

I took a snapshot of Reese Simmons, Nic Manley and Braxton Pryor, members of the Spalding Grays, at a rifle pit entrenchment that’s still around. The re-enactors’ young faces and uniforms made me wonder what it was like 146 years ago.

Calvin Livesay of Virginia was a young Rebel soldier at Resaca. He wrote, “Early in the spring of '64 we began to move toward Atlanta fighting more or less all the way. We had quite a battle at Resaca. Breast works were thrown up and we had a lively time. Here Johnston was driven back. Barnie Parks was killed and General Reynolds wounded. We were now put in Brown's Brigade of Tennesseans. We never saw General Reynolds any more.”


Jim Devine of Sweetwater, Tenn., rested on a wooden chair and made the most of the rare shade at Resaca.

Like others from eastern Tennessee he talked about split allegiances during the Civil War. His great-great-grandfather fought for the Union.

Devine had prepared about 50 musket rounds for the afternoon battle.

I asked the easygoing re-enactor about why he comes to events like Bentonville, Fort Sanders and Appomattox. His answer was succinct.

“I like camping out, friends and the camraderie.”

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