Stepping back in time

Published 12:30 am Sunday, April 19, 2009

Beneath giant live oaks, Anna Warnke and her sister, Mary, sat and soaked in the scene around them. Men and women walked arm in arm, musicians plucked stringed instruments and guards stood stiff as boards outside the doors.

“It is really pretty,” Anna said. “We’ve never been to a ball in a garden before. Everything looks like it’s from the 1860s.”

The Battle of Selma Ball took place at Sturdivant Hall Saturday night. At the back end of the courtyard, Un-Reconstructed played Civil War period music. Chris Dempsey, who played fiddle, said very few re-enactments had such beautiful settings as Selma.

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“It’s a great setting, with all the live oaks and old houses,” he said. “Just the feel of it.”

His band mate, Susie Stephenson, said she enjoys performing at living history events like the Battle of Selma Ball. The Gadsden-based band plays re-enactments, historical homes and state parks around the South.

“Getting up close and personal with history really,” she said.

Many of the re-enactors traveled to Selma from other states. Hanan Jones, 9, came from Kentucky with his family. He held a wooden toy gun and watched as a group of young girls danced underneath a lit-up gazebo.

“It’s all dancing,” he said. “I don’t like dancing.”

Like most boys, Jones prefers something with a little more firepower than a string band can provide.

“The canons actually, and the guns,” he added.

Billie Joe Sawyer fell in love with the Civil War when he was a boy, just like Jones. Sawyer joined a Federal cavalry unit when he grew older, and he has attended The Battle of Selma ever since. Sawyer said he could not believe his eyes when he saw the battlegrounds for the first time.

“I was incredibly awestruck,” he said. “I’ve come to just about every Battle of Selma since then.”

The Tennessee native, who is now a member of the First Alabama Federal Unit, said he does not feel conflicted wearing the Union blues. It has some perks.

“Less marching, more shooting, more excitement,” he said.

For many who attended, the ball, and the entire weekend, is a way to walk in the footsteps of their ancestors. It is not all just about the pretty dresses, the Warnke sisters said.

Our ancestors were in the war,” Mary said. “We were able to walk the battlefield where they walk.