Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Perryville. It was the biggest Civil War battle in Kentucky and helped keep the Bluegrass State in Union control through the war. Had the Confederacy taken control of this land and moved the border of Union/Confederate to the Ohio River, Union victory in the war may have been more difficult, as northern states like Ohio, Indiana and Illinois would have been more vulnerable to attack and southern control of the Ohio River would have hindered Union travel and trade in the west.
I just attended the re-enactment of this battle over the weekend and had a great time. I will probably be posting about it multiple times in the next few days as I organize my thoughts and reactions, and more and more thoughts come to mind. There were close to 2,000 re-enactors at the event and attendance was great too, especially on Saturday. Thousands of people filled the park, enjoyed the encampments and other activities and lined up to see the actual battle being "re-fought." It was nice to see such attendance and I hope this event allowed people to see what a beautiful site this park is and will encourage people to help preserve it. Of course, I also hope they learned what happened on this land and why it matters.
That is one of the questions that is going through my mind right now. Now that I have seen a large re-enactment in person, what is the purpose of such an event? Is it just to draw large crowds and raise money? Is it to educate attendees on the actual events of the battle? Or of the Civil War in general?
What does holding a re-enactment say about how we remember the battle? What does attending it say about those who viewed the event? On Saturday afternoon, I had two people spot the "volunteer" tag I was wearing and offer a couple of complaints. One lady said that she had been told to move up the hill to see the battle but that the re-enactors had not gotten there yet and she was disappointed she had moved. I advised her the event had just started 15 minutes earlier and that the "battle" would cover the same ground as it did 150 years, but it would take time to do so. (And it certainly accomplished that - while I was in the same area watching the event, a large group of people suddenly moved up the hill to get in line, moving just as the Federal re-enactors were falling back.)
Another gentleman said he wished they had described the choreography of the re-enactment in the event's program so that he could better follow it and know where to sit as well. I thanked him for his suggestion and said I would pass it on.
What do those encounters say about attendees, or even just those two people in particular? Is this another chance to complain about the "attention span" of modern Americans, used to TV shows, microwave ovens, and fast travel?
I also witnessed parents talking to their children about what was going on, so perhaps many others took advantage of this as an educational opportunity. I heard 2 different mothers explain to their children that the soldiers were using real guns, but only gunpowder and not bullets. One of the children asked "Why don't they use bullets?" I walked away before hearing the mother's answer as I did not want to appear nosy (though that's what I was being) but it was good to see many children (including troops of cub scouts) there, with at least the opportunity for learning.
There was a very nice living history encampment on the grounds too. I was impressed with the Sanity Commission set up, which I had not seen before. There was an impressive display of medical items and equipment, tinsmiths and other exhibits that added to the event.
I know there was more living history taking place in the actual town, but I did not get the chance to visit it since I spent my time on the battlefield, but when I drove through town, a lot of people were along the streets as well.
I also took over 300 photos and videos and will post a few here and on facebook, though I won't ask anybody to go through all of them. Many of them, I'm sure, were of similar sights, so I will pick out some of the better ones to share.
I hope this event did bring more awareness of the importance of this battle to everyone who attended or read about it. Perryville was an important battle and as tee-shirts sold by the Friends of Perryville state: "This Place Matters."