Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Remembrance, Entertainment and History

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on January 8, 2011

This weekend was the 148th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Galveston. Events continue Sunday, January 9, but the weather’s supposed to be uncooperative, so I went today.

I started out on the cemetery tour (left, the grave of Lieutenant Commander Edward Lea, U.S.N.). The tour got off to a late start, due to the prior commemoration ceremony running over-schedule. The ceremony was well done, and commendably non-partisan, with a C.S. reenactor color guard and a U.S. firing party. The cemetery tour itself was led by Linda McBee, who is rightly famous here for her unflagging work in documenting cemeteries around the county. It’s a personal labor for her; she’s a sixth-or seventh generation islander in some branches, and counts seventeen direct ancestors buried in just the one cemetery complex on the tour. I don’t know her personally, but I think I’d like her; I laughed a little at her no-nonsense, pragmatic approach to the subject. Asked if burials still occurred in the cemetery, she replied that they did, but rarely, when someone is interred in a plot still owned by the family.  She added that her family is one of those that has a plot with spaces available, so if the need arose, “we’d stick ’em in there.”

Ed’s tour of Civil War Galveston was first-rate, as usual; he added some large-scale maps and photos to his interpretation that help a great deal in visualizing the city in 1861-65 generally, and the Battle of Galveston specifically.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the reenactment, really. There were some efforts at re-enacting the Battle of Galveston thirty years ago, but I didn’t see those. This one was impressive, if for no other reason than it was necessarily up-close and personal. The reenactment was done more-or-less on the site of the actual fighting, which means smack in the middle of town, on a public street and adjacent parking lot. As you can see in the photos, it was all very up-close. There were some professional photographers who put themselves in the middle of it, and a few clueless tourists, but as far as I know the only injury was to the ego of a Confederate soldier who face-planted himself tripping over a curb. He quickly rejoined the fight.

On thing I noticed was that although the battle reenactment attracted a big crowd, it didn’t have a particularly partisan feel. (One old guy, trying to be clever, shouted “blue-bellies go home!” No one else in the crowd even seemed to hear it.) There wasn’t much chest-thumping on either side, and examples of the Confederate Battle Flag — a hot-button point of contention if there ever was one — was not much in evidence. As at past events in which they participate, the Confederate reenactors didn’t carry it, I think by prior arrangement with the sponsors. There was no shortage of Confederate reenactors, either — they outnumbered the bluecoats four- or five-to-one — so if any declined to participate on that account, they weren’t missed. (And I honestly don’t whether it was present at the historical Battle of Galveston in any case.) There were fewer CBFs in the crowd than I might have expected, as well — I noticed three: one on a stick waved by some kid, a Dixie Outfitters shopper, and a biker from the SCV’s “mechanized cavalry.” But that was it. (Ed didn’t get any interruptions from his audience who set out to harangue him on some obscure point with him, either, which all of us on the tour greatly appreciated.)

Certainly the organizer of the event didn’t want anything controversial in this event, and I suspect has eased into commemoration of the Battle of Galveston very carefully over a period of years. There’s always a fine line to be drawn between history-as-it-was, and history-as-entertainment. The reenactment today was fun to watch, and I’m sure today’s events will be marked as a popular and fiscal success. But it’s good to keep in mind that it’s an entirely different animal from history.

More photos after the jump, approximately in order.

Linda McBee on the cemetery tour. For the record — she’s not one of these silly persons.

Federal skirmishers fire on approaching Confederate troops.

Taking dead aim.

Confederate troops take cover. The boxes and meal bags in the background hide the Federals barricaded on the wharves.

Another company forms up to assault the wharf.

Opening fire.

Reinforcements arrive.

Indirect fire?

A full volley.

Federal soldiers march back to camp.

5 Responses

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  1. David Woodbury said, on January 9, 2011 at 4:10 am

    Thanks for that report. I am organizing a tour with Ed Cotham for the late summer or fall, to focus on Galveston and Sabine Pass, both of which he’s authored a book on. The cemetery tour sounds worthwhile as well.

    I’m really looking forward to going to Galveston again for the first time since I was a kid. Are they mostly recovered now from the recent hurricane and flood damage (a couple years ago)?


    • Andy Hall said, on January 9, 2011 at 8:14 am

      Ed’s a great guy. I first met him years ago when he was still researching his first book — nearly every Saturday, in the local archives here. He’s an object lesson in how research is done, on-the-ground.

      Galveston has rebounded very well, IMO, from Hurricane Ike in September 2008, faster and more completely than I’d have expected. The one thing that even a rare visitor is likely to notice is the loss of hardwood trees, mainly oaks, that covered the main avenues and the older parts of town, due to salt poisoning. We lost thousands and thousands of those. A casual or infrequent visitor likely wouldn’t note many changes. I don’t mean to make light of the destruction or damage at all — some neighborhoods remain devastated, and the population here is still about 20% lower than it was — but overall the recovery has been heartening.

  2. David Woodbury said, on January 10, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    I had not considered the effect of salt water on the local trees and foliage. Losing majestic old oaks is a sad thing.

    • Andy Hall said, on January 10, 2011 at 8:31 pm

      The irony is that many of those trees were almost 100 years old, having been planted after previous storms in 1900 and 1915. At least half of the hardwood trees were lost, I’d guess — thousands and thousands. It took a long time to accept that such a fundamental part of the landscape was being lost, and some people still haven’t accepted that their trees aren’t coming back, even after repeated offers to use recovery money to cut them down and haul them off. Hard to let go.

      On the other hand, look at what folks have done with the remains of their trees.

      I never understood storm surge — really understood it — until I met a man and his wife who had waded, in the dark, half a mile through chest-deep water to get to safety.

  3. Keith Harris said, on January 10, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    Andy – I have run across all kinds of reenactors in my travels and I have found them ranging in ideology from fervent to not at all. Honestly, I think most of these guys are just out for a good time. At least that is the impression I get from speaking with many of the reenactors that I encounter. Plus, many of them do a great deal of work with battlefield preservation…something I support. In a few weeks, I am going to my very first battle reenactment at the Calico Ghost Town in Yermo California – naturally, with video camera in hand. So I will be sure to report back with interviews!

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