With the observances of the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, historians and history buffs are giving this dark time in American history a closer look. Each state has its own stories, all of which focus on the economic and cultural aspects of the war. And Louisiana tells its stories through historic sites located throughout the state.
Probably the most prominent event commemorating the Civil War in Louisiana is the annual re-enactment of the Battle of Port Hudson, held during the final weekend of March at Port Hudson State Historic Site. This year’s event is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, March 28 and March 29. While the actual siege was from May 22 through July 9, 1863 (the longest siege of the war), the re-enactment is held during a cooler season as the men and women who volunteer are committed to being as authentic as possible (right down to the woolen uniforms and layers of underskirts and antebellum dresses).
The re-enactment at Port Hudson includes more than battles and soldiers. There are “sutlers” (civilian merchants who accompanied armies) selling reproduction items, ladies washing clothes and cooking as it would have been done in the 1860s and a Sunday morning church service. All of these activities show the daily life of the Civil War-era soldier, beyond the fighting.
Pineville is another site that highlights the day-to-day activities of Civil War soldiers—Forts Randolph and Buhlow State Historic Site. These earthen forts were completed by Confederates in the spring of 1865 on the Red River and fortified with cannons to hold off future Union attacks through northwest Louisiana. Because the Louisiana Confederate forces surrendered just two months later, soldiers stationed there did not see any action. Programming at the site focuses on the daily life of the soldier including card games they played and whittling techniques they practiced while on the lookout for Union troops. Visitors can also see various artifacts such as personal items and artillery.
One of the reasons for building the forts in central Louisiana was the Union defeat at The Battle of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill. Mansfield State Historic Site provides a different side of the conflict, with one of the later Confederate victories of the war. The site holds a major re-enactment every five years, with the next scheduled for 2019; but until then, there are plenty of programs that let the visitor step back in time to experience soldier life. On May 16, the site will highlight activity at the Mansfield outpost where, despite the earlier victory, Confederate troops were beginning to mutiny.
Visit LaStateParks.com for more information about Forts Randolph and Buhlow, Mansfield and Port Hudson state historic sites. The sites are open Tuesdays through Saturdays and offer site tours in addition to their many programs.