JAMES ISLAND — The sun was blazing and the mosquitoes were biting at the Fort Lamar Heritage Preserve on Saturday, but that did not prevent people from showing up to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Secessionville.
At the event, about 400 attendees enjoyed guided tours of the battle site, Civil War re-enactors and cannon- and rifle-firing drills while learning about those who died during the battle.
“We could have a dozen or 10,000 people,” said W. Blake Hallman Jr., president of the South Carolina Battleground Preservation Trust. “The goal — to the trust — is that the people who come here are willing to learn about what happened and recognize that it is part of our nation’s history.”
The battle occurred on June 16, 1862, when the Confederate army defended Fort Lamar from a Union invasion. The battle was considered crucial in determining the fate of Charleston.
“Had the battle not been a Confederate victory, it’s likely Charleston would have fell very early in the war as opposed to all the way back to February 1865,” said Doug Bostick, executive director of the South Carolina Battleground Preservation Trust and author of “Charleston Under Siege.”
Bostick gave a lecture the night before at the Department of Natural Resources Auditorium about the events that led to the Battle of Secessionville, giving attendees a deeper insight of the history behind the battle.
Chicago-born Patrick Brennan gave the opening memorial address at the remembrance event. He is the author of the book “Secessionville: Assault on Charleston.”
Brennan came to South Carolina as a touring musician and took great interest in the battle once his band became popular in Charleston.
“I kept coming back here, and I just kept researching and researching,” Brennan said. “I met a lot of the people who were involved in the original preservation, and I got involved in it because this whole area was going to be plowed under.”
Brennan said the Battle of Secessionville is often overlooked, since more focus was placed at the time on capturing Richmond, which was then the capital of the Confederate States of America.
“When Secessionville happened, it was the front page of the New York News,” Brennan said. “But when the Seven Days battle occurred at the gates of Richmond, it got knocked away.”
Re-enactors, along with Brennan, provided guided tours around the battle site and enlightened attendees with information on artillery used during the war.
“The battleground is a vital component in teaching about our nation’s history,” Hallman said. “You can read about it in books and learn about it second- or third-hand from someone else, or you can walk the grounds and get a feel for why this was such an important defensive position.”
The battleground is preserved as a quintessential piece of America’s past.
Some of the re-enactors camped out at the battleground Friday night to commemorate the fallen soldiers.
“When you do re-enacting, you’re living it, you’re teaching it and you’re learning from it,” said Mark Dangerfield, a re-enactor with the 27th South Carolina Volunteer Infantry. “To be on an actual battlefield, that’s not something you get to do very often.”
While some attended the event to have family fun and attend a history lesson, others attended for more personal reasons.
Melissa Lumbard of Florida and her father, David, came to commemorate their ancestor, Benjamin Franklin Burr, who served in the Charleston battle under the 8th Michigan Infantry, Company E.
Burr’s remains are buried under the battleground along with 150 to 200 unnamed soldiers who fought and died in the battle, said David Lumbard.
A re-enactment of the Battle of Secessionville is planned in November at Boone Hall Plantation.
Reach Tyler Simpson at 937-5925 or follow @tylersimpsonmix on Twitter.