Event organizers have been making plans for this re-enactment for more than a year and have gotten the community and the site ready for what they hope will be a large number of Civil War re-enactors. And there is even talk of buried treasure somewhere near the battlefield northeast of Okolona.
“This is the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and the Battle of Okolona is one of the first re-enactments on the circuit this year,” said Dona Wise, event spokesman. “The battle also took place on Feb. 22, 1864 and we’re marking the 150th anniversary to the date.”
Wise said the Battle of Okolona was a regular stop on the re-enactment circuit for years, but attendance dwindled. She said event organizers are hoping for a large crowd this month.
“We like it for the history and the story it tells for a lot of people who had relatives around here who fought in the Civil War,” said Wise. “Businesses like it because our re-enactors buy gas, eat in our restaurants and shop in our stores. A re-enactment also brings a lot of people to town to visit the campsite that weekend.”
Wise said there will be cannons, cavalry charges, vendors – known as sutlers to re-enactors — food booths and lot and lots of soldiers dressed in both Confederate and Union clothing.
“Re-enactors love to talk about their gear and the soldier they represent,” said Wise. “These events are great history lesson for young and old. We’ve designed this one to have a little something for everybody.”
So what about the story of gold and buried treasure linked to the Battle of Okolona?
The story is told . . .
Littleberry Gilliam was one of the early settlers in the area and grew to be a prosperous landowner.
When the Union swept in during the Battle of Okolona, Gilliam was detained in the community of Prairie Mound. It was rumored that Gilliam had buried gold and valuables on his land and the raiders interrogated him looking for his treasure.
But Gilliam escaped his captors and hid in a barn not far from the re-enactment site.
Federal raiders later burned the barn – with Gilliam in it – to the horror of the community.
They never found Gilliam’s horde of gold and local historians ponder that it could be buried somewhere nearby.
Battle of Okolona
The Battle of Okolona took place on Feb. 22, 1864, between Confederate and Union forces during the American Civil War.
Confederate cavalry, commanded by Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, faced over 7,000 cavalry under the command of Union Brig. Gen. William Sooy Smith. The Rebels defeated them at Okolona, causing 100 casualties while losing 50.
Smith’s force had come from Memphis and were to rendezvous with the main Union army of 20,000 stationed at Meridian under the command of Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman. However, Smith disobeyed orders and delayed his march from Memphis for ten days.
When he eventually left, he encountered the Confederate cavalry on Feb. 21 at Ellis Bridge near West Point and on Feb. 22 was engaged in a running battle across eleven miles with Forrest’s forces. With Confederate reinforcements, Forrest routed Smith but did not pursue due to lack of ammunition.
Smith limped over the state line to Tennessee on Feb. 26, where he was criticized for putting Sherman’s Meridian Expedition in danger. Forrest saw his younger brother die in his arms after being shot in the neck.
Historians contend Columbus has many of its older plantation homes today due to this action, which turned the Union advance and prevented Columbus from being burned.
The Confederate Cemetery/Re-enactment Project steering committee is made up of Andy Anderson, Perry Grubbs, Stelle Ivy, Murry Blankenship, Kevin Thornton, Justin Sullivan, Don Houston, Jerry Morgan, Bill Stewart, Mayor Louise Cole, Martha Gordon and Larry Davis.
The re-enactment site can be found by driving north on Highway 41 out of Okolona and looking for the signs.
Details about the Battle of Okolona re-enactment can be obtained by calling the Okolona Chamber of Commerce at 447-5913.