Sulfur scented cannon blasts and a relentless staccato of gunfire echoed across Boone Hall Plantation on Saturday as re-enactors commemorated the 150th anniversary of the Civil War’s Battle of Battery Wagner.
The Union Army’s unsuccessful storming of the fort on Morris Island on July 18, 1863, and was led by the famed 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, one of the first units to utilize black soldiers.
The battle was depicted in the critically acclaimed film “Glory,” starring Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman and Matthew Broderick.
Re-enactors at Boone Hall marched to the cadence of drums as they brought the historic battle to life. Attendees shrieked and covered their ears at the sounds of the cannons as the soldiers played out the age-old conflict before them.
The group will remain camped through today to take part in a number of scheduled events, including story telling, a social at the Cotton Dock, and weaponry demonstrations.
Portraying the role of provost, John “Garfield” Nolon, 53, of Myrtle Beach, oversaw the Confederate camp from his tent on the sidelines.
Saturday’s battle marked Nolon’s 21st year as a re-enactor. Ironic, he said, considering he hated history as a kid. It wasn’t until he got older that the significance of it all suddenly clicked.
“When I’m sitting out here looking at the sky at night time, I’m looking at the same stars that they looked at all those years ago. We’re all the same. We live life as best we can,” Nolon said. “We follow the paths that they took and we try to get it right as best we can.”
Nolon said he didn’t agree with everything the Confederates had come to be known for, citing the brutality of slavery, but that there’s still a lesson to be learned in the nation having gone through the experience.
“How do you move on to your future if you don’t look to the past? We’re supposed to learn from our mistakes,” Nolon said.
Black men who portrayed Union solders of the 54th Massachusetts told tales of former slaves who fought and died on the North’s behalf.
“Before I be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and be free,” the group sang before marching to the battlefield.
Ernest Parks, 58, of James Island, said the infantry helped pave the way for racial equality long before the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
“As black men, we helped free this country. We helped make America what she is today. It’s all of our responsibility to research and tell the untold stories of those who helped make us what we are,” Parks said.
Battery Wagner activities will continue today. Visit http://boonehallplantation.com/The_Battle_Of_Fort_Wagner for the day’s events.