PLEASANT MOUND – Tourism, history, entertainment and fellowship were all wrapped up in the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Okolona in this past weekend.
The three-day event saw cannons boom, rifles fire, cavalry charge and thousands of people show up to watch it all unfold on a little spot of ground in Northeast Chickasaw County.
“This has been great for Okolona and all of Chickasaw County,” said Perry Grubbs, executive director of the Okolona Chamber of Commerce. “We had people here from six states and over a 1,000 people on Saturday and Sunday. It’s been a lot of fun.”
The Battle of Okolona was fought on Feb. 21, 1864 and this marked the Sesquicentennial for the engagement, drawing re-enactors from around the state and country. The event saw Okolona school history students tour the camp Thursday and the battle staged for spectators on Saturday and Sunday.
The event was steeped in history.
“This cannon was actually captured from the Union Army in the War Between The State,” said Shawn Kyzer, of the 1st Mississippi Artillery, headquartered in Starkville. “And we ain’t giving it back.”
Kyzer said the 3-inch rifled cannon can and does shoot rounds at live-fire events held around the country.
“This is more than shooting a cannon to us,” said Kyzer. “This is about history. We actually use a training manual that was taught at the U.S. Army Military Academy at West Point to fire this weapon.”
But for spectators it was pure fun.
Stone Pendleton, 7, of Columbus, was thrilled to run a swab down the bore of the cannon. His father stood by and took pictures.
Many of the re-enactors camped for three days in period tents, dressed in period clothing and ate period food.
“We smoke Virginia tobacco that we picked up just outside of Gettysburg,” said Tom Boltz, depicting Union troops with the 14th Kentucky brigade. “It has been great to be in on the actual battlefield on the actual date this engagement took place. That doesn’t happen at a lot of re-enactments and that made this one special.”
Boltz said while rain soaked their gear Thursday night, Friday, Saturday and Sunday were perfect.
“The organizers did a lot of work to put this on and it shows,” said Boltz. “Everything we asked for they found a way to supply. We go to a lot of these re-enactments and we’re going to talk this one up for next year.”
Boltz and Kyzer said re-enactments show how hard the Civil War was on the combatants and those touched by the war.
“Everything was moved by a man or a horse,” said Kyzer. “Everything was in short supply and people died everyday.”
The re-enactment had six cannons, more than 30 men mounted on horses and about 100 soldiers.
The re-enactment also had many neat historical points.
There was a period church service on Sunday with preaching and hymns from that age. A wreath was laid on the tree where Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s brother Jeff allegedly bled to death in the general’s arms.
And there was Bloody Pond, where the wounded came to dress their wounds. Locals say the pond still mysteriously turns red in the early spring.
“We estimated that we had about 1,800 on Saturday and at least 1,400 people on Sunday,” said Joanna Carter, Chairman of the Battle of Okolona Committee. “This was a lot of hard work and so many people played a part to help make it happen.”
Carter said the would like to hold this re-enactment on a regular basis.
“This is about more than just Okolona,” said Carter. “This is our history and we need to tell people about it.”
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 was 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.
Details about the 2015 Battle of Okolona re-enactment can be obtained by calling the Okolona Chamber of Commerce at 447-5913.