If you go
› What: Siege at Bridgeport Civil War re-enactment.
› When: Gates open at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 2-3; battles begin at 2 p.m. (all times Central).
› Where: 2361 County Road 255, Bridgeport, Ala.
› Admission: $5 adults, $4 seniors 55+, $3 children, free for children under 6 and active military personnel.
› Phone: 256-495-3614 or 256-437-8873.
› Website: siegeatbridge port.com.
› Note: Handicap parking is available.
Some 1,000 re-enactors are expected this weekend for the Siege at Bridgeport, the largest Civil War re-enactment in Alabama. Now in its 22nd year, the event features battles, anvil shoots, a ladies tea and a period ball during its two-day run Saturday and Sunday, April 2-3.
Re-enactors will travel from as far away as Kentucky, Virginia, Florida and even England to take part, according to Glenn Hill, one of the organizers. All participants adhere to strict authentication guidelines, foregoing modern conveniences to sleep in tents and even on the ground to accurately portray life during the war, he says.
The town of Bridgeport, founded in the late 1840s, was a key strategic site during the War Between the States, owing to its location on both a rail line and the Tennessee River. The area saw major skirmishes on April 29 and Aug. 26, 1862, and numerous smaller actions. In the latter part of the war, Bridgeport became a major shipyard, building gunboats and transports for the Union Army.
The re-enactment takes place on one of the original skirmish sites in Jackson County, just outside the city limits. Public camp tours begin at 10 a.m. CDT. Anvil shoots, in which a 100-pound anvil is shot more than 100 feet into the air, begin at noon each day. Battles begin at 2 p.m. and last about an hour.
Saturday also includes a ladies tea during the morning and a period ball to close the day featuring music by the renowned 5th Regimental band of Tuscaloosa, Ala. The ball is open to the general public, but period attire is requested.
Sunday's festivities start with a church service and a memorial to the soldiers and former slaves buried in the Williams Family Cemetery, one of the older cemeteries in Jackson County.
On Friday, April 1, re-enactors will host more than 1,000 children from Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia. These field trips will include demonstrations of Civil War life for soldiers.
"The re-enactment teaches children what life was like during war time — and there wasn't anything civil about it," Hill says in a news release. "We want today's generations to realize what conditions were like and what our forefathers endured to secure the freedom we enjoy today."
Bridgeport’s Civil War history
On its website, the South Pittsburg Historic Preservation Society includes information on neighboring Bridgeport, Ala., written by Dennis Lambert. This is a condensed version of the town’s Civil War history.
On April 29, 1862, Union troops under Gen. Ormsby M. Mitchell attacked Confederate troops under the command of Gen. Danville Leadbetter, who were camped on the hill at Bridgeport overlooking the river and bridge. The ensuing battle resulted in the deaths of several men from both sides and the destruction of the railroad’s drawbridge on the opposite side of Long Island by the Confederates as they retreated toward Chattanooga. Mitchell, when withdrawing from Bridgeport in early May 1862, ordered the long railroad truss bridge burned, which the Confederate’s had attempted to blow up during the battle of April 29.
Bridgeport would continue to play a vital role during the first years of the war as Union and Confederate troops captured and recaptured the town. In the summer of 1863, Confederate troops under Gen. Braxton Bragg burned the town and a portion of the long truss bridge as they withdrew from Middle Tennessee to Chattanooga before the Battle of Chickamauga. Union forces under the command of Gen. William S. Rosecrans would soon occupy Bridgeport, and Union forces would hold it for the remainder of the war.
The town would witness the building of new fortifications and the rebuilding of ones previously built by the Confederates. In addition, the town would be the location of a Union field hospital and military cemetery and where several Union steam transports and gunboats were constructed from late 1863 to mid-1864. The first of these was the U.S.S. Chattanooga; the U.S.S. Bridgeport was one of the last.
Also during the war, the railroad drawbridge at Bridgeport was burned an additional time, with both bridges being rebuilt by the Union Army along with the railroad between Nashville and Chattanooga. Bridgeport’s location on the railroad and Tennessee River led to it becoming a major supply base for the Union Army and Union Gen. William T. Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign. The Union Army would continue to occupy Bridgeport until well after the end of the war in 1865 as reconstruction began after the defeat of the Confederacy.