Guns of war no longer blast in Selma

Published 10:00 pm Friday, December 19, 2008

Bill Rambo sat atop his horse and stared over his right shoulder at the column of troops dressed in gray marching behind him.

The Union flag flapped in the wind, brass buttons glimmered in the midday sun and drums beat in the distance.

During moments like these, Rambo is almost sure he is a Confederate soldier fighting in the Battle of Selma.

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“It’s what we call, in reenacting, magic moments,” Rambo said. “Sometimes, when an enemy’s coming at you, you feel this tingle in your gut, and it’s close to fear.”

Rambo has spearheaded the reenactment of the Battle of Selma since its inception in 1987. This year there will not be any “magic moments” for Rambo and the other reenactors. Due to the lack of manpower and funding, the reenactment of the Battle of Selma has been cancelled indefinitely.

The toll of holding a weekend-long battle complete with a ball and “living history” events proved too much.

Since most reenactors live out of town, local groups such as The Kiwanis Club, The Battle of Selma Authority and the 33rd Alabama Volunteer Infantry Regiment handle preparations for the event.

Locals such as Mike Reynolds spent countless hours swinging hammers and cutting grass so everything would be just right. Reynolds did not care how much time it took out of his life.

“The priority was doing good things for Selma,” he said.

The reenactment peaked in popularity around 1999. At that time, there were as many as 1,500 reenactors coming to Selma. After 2000, numbers began to dwindle. The low point came when only 300 people came to dress in gray and blue.

“Reenacting as a hobby has dwindled to a degree,” Reynolds said. “It’s a big loss in terms of tourism, but it’s something that requires so much time and effort it’s just impossible to keep going.”

Rambo also said reenacting is in decline around the country. He said there is a general lack of interest in Civil War history.

Edith Parten, communication director for the Alabama Tourism Department, said the current economic climate does not help matters, either.

“No doubt this is an important event,” she said. “This downturn is impacting everyone.”

Dallas County Tourism Director Candace Johnson said this is a huge loss for the county.

“We do hate to see it go,” she said. “Just with the economy the way it is, reenacting is an expensive hobby because everything has to be authentic.”

Reynolds credits Rambo with keeping the reenactment going this long. “He’s the historian. He should be given a lot of credit for hanging around as long as he did.”

Rambo was the military coordinator for the reenactment. He made sure every detail was authentic – from the stitches on the uniforms to the handles of the swords.

“My whole angle from the beginning of the Battle of Selma was to set an authentic tone for the event and make sure the reenactors got an authentic experience. I said this is what it takes.”

Rambo hopes interest in Civil War reenactment will rise in the next few years; 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.

Rambo said he saw a similar situation when he began reenacting in the 1980s. When the 125th anniversary of the start of the Civil War rolled around in 1986, people across the country began reenacting.

“Life’s like a heart monitor,” Rambo said. “There are surges of interests and valleys.”