The historic Siege at Bridgeport, which took place in 1862, will once again be portrayed in terms of the struggle, sound and fury for the 19th consecutive year later this month. The Siege has become the state’s largest and oldest continuous Civil War reenactment. Each year, approximately 1,500 reenactors return to the farm that has served as the live drama stage since the event began. The farm has been owned by the Williams family for over 175 years. As a matter of fact, the farm was given to the family by a land patent from Andrew Jackson on Sept. 4, 1834, well before the Civil War.
In 2010 the farm was in danger of being taken by TVA because of its location to the Widows Creek ash ponds. All other property close to the ponds had been purchased by TVA and the families affected relocated. After a year of negotiation, an agreement was reached between the McCraw’s and TVA to retain ownership of their farm. One of the land owners Jere McCraw said “I cannot thank TVA enough for being patient and realizing what the farm means to JoJohn, Haley and I. TVA has been supportive of the reenactment even allowing us to use their property for parking. We look forward to remaining good neighbors.”
In 2009, the event was named in the Top Ten Tourist Attractions by the Alabama Department of Tourism and Travel. It was also recognized as the 4th most revenue-producing event in the state based on monthly sales tax increase for local governments.
Founded in the late 1840’s, the community of Bridgeport was a hotbed of activity during the War Between the States. The reason was a key railroad bridge that spanned the Tennessee River near downtown that connected Alabama to Chattanooga and points both north and south.
During the early part of the war, the Confederacy controlled Bridgeport and its strategic bridge. Confederate Brigadier General Ledbetter commanded 450 troops to defend the city at a fort situated on Battery Hill approximately 500 yards from the bridge. In April of 1862, Federal forces seized Bridgeport in a fierce battle. Union General Mitchell led more than 5,000 troops into Bridgeport forcing General Ledbetter to retreat toward Chattanooga. Over the remaining years of the war Confederate troops unsuccessfully attempted on numerous occasions to regain control of Bridgeport. With the Union controlling the bridge, Bridgeport became the major shipping center for troops and supplies going to General Sherman’s infamous “March to the Sea”. The shipping route from Bridgeport to Chattanooga became known as the “Cracker Line.”
Each year more than 1,000 children take a field trip to Bridgeport to watch demonstrations and learn about the life of soldiers during the Civil War. The reenactment teaches children what life was like during war time – and there wasn’t anything “civil about it.”
“We want today’s generations to realize what conditions were like and what our forefathers endured to secure the freedom we enjoy today” said Glenn Hill, one of the organizers of the event. Property owner JoJohn McGraw also wanted to thank TVA for allowing the Siege to use their property for parking. All funds received from the parking fees will be donated to St. Jude’s to help children now receiving treatment and those needing it in the future.
Saturday and Sunday, March 23 and 24, are the days of the actual reenactment. Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for children. Children under 6 are admitted free of charge. Senior citizen admission is $3 for spectators 55 years of age or older. Active military personnel are admitted free. Handicapped parking is available. Public camp tours begin at 10 a.m. CDT. Day one includes a ladies tea and the anvil shoot before the battles. The anvil shoot is one of the most popular events at the reenactment. A 100 pound anvil is shot over 100 feet into the air. The battle begins at 2 p.m. CDT and last about an hour. Saturday night a “Gala Ball” will be held under the big tent. This year the “5th Alabama Regimental Band” will host the ball. While the ball is open to the public, period attire is requested.
Sunday’s festivities start with a church service and a memorial to the soldiers and former slaves buried in the William’s Family Cemetery, one of the older cemeteries in Jackson County. The anvil shoot again precedes the battle which begins at 2 p.m. CDT. Re-eanctors will travel from as far away as Kentucky, Virginia, Florida and even England to take part in the Siege at Bridgeport. All participating re-enactors adhere to strict authentication guidelines, foregoing modern conveniences to sleep in tents and even on the ground to accurately portray life during the war.
For more information on the Siege at Bridgeport, contact Glenn Hill at 256.495-3614 or JoJohn McCraw at 256.437-8873 and 837-4041 or log on to www.siegeatbridgeport.com.