What is listed as a Top Ten Event in Gatlinburg, is family friendly, and free? The Battle of the Burg is a Civil War Reenactment in Gatlinburg that is all of the above and more! Just when you wondered if there was anything truly free in Gatlinburg, you have an answer that will delight your family.
We headed out to the Battle of the Burg on a gorgeous, sunny Father's Day weekend. Thundershowers were a possibility, with fluffy white clouds threading in and out of the emerald mountains all day, but the sky remained blue. A thickness hung in the air, the threat of rain, despite the wide swath of blue against the dazzling mountains.
We were expecting the "Battle of the Burg" to be a great reenactment. After seeing the Southern Guards Battalion two weeks before in Jonesville VA, we had an idea of what to expect.
We got there just in time to join the crowd under the Big Tent for the living history session, "Meet the Generals." General Lee passionately told his life story, funny stories from his time at West Point (with no demerits), to serving in the United States Army with distinction, then sadly talking about leaving Arlington and seeing it for the last time. General Lee (David Chaltas) always speaks with quiet conviction, utter humility and kindness. He is a gentleman of the first order, doing an phenomenal General Lee impression. We also caught the end of Stonewall Jackson's talk, and briefly heard Union General Ulysses S. Grant. Each man portraying a general is well versed in WHO that general was, what he did before, during and after the war, making them all to human, rather than merely figures you read about in history books. Kids sat enthralled, listening to each man, awed by the history unfolding. The war was becoming real.
After hearing from the Generals, we went out exploring. The Gatlinburg reenactment is in a gorgeous location. Nestled into the beautiful Smokey Mountains, the battlefield used was a long flat field, rimmed by hills covered with dense forests. The Union camp stood at one end, with tents and cannon to defend their position. The Confederate camp was at the other end, flags proudly flying, guarded by cannon. Both bristled with soldiers and stories, people who love history and love sharing it with the crowds. Visitors walked through the camps of both sides.
Living History demonstrations were going on throughout the day. A working blacksmith had a tent on Sutler Row, and he spent hours over a hot fire, fashioning useful, period items out of black metal. Blacksmithing is grueling, hot work, and he was chipper and in high spirits, with crowds of people around him enjoying his work. He spent the entire day hammering, steaming, shaping, heating and sharing stories with the crowd. He even sold his handmade creations right there on the spot. Indian Fry Bread was being cooked and served, along with other treats.
All too soon it was time to take our spots for the battle. We headed up on a wide, grassy hill overlooking the battlefield and settled into a spot with a middle vantage point, our view was perfect! We were excited about capturing the event on film and camera. People began to chose spots and position themselves, whipping out picnic lunches, or enjoying the fare from the sutlers. There is always a delicious rush of anticipation that whips through a site, when the battle is about to be begin. The kids get excited, people settle in to watch, everyone surveying the battlefield and the slopes, looking for horses in the forest, flashes of blue or gray.
General Lee positioned himself in front of the crowd, running up and down, narrating each battle, bringing to life the scenes. He is also a "safety officer" keeping the crowds safe. While this is a reenactment, they are using real guns, with black powder, and real cannons. It captures part of the smell, the roar and the spirit of the battle.
The Battle of the Burg reenactment began with a roving band of Confederate soldiers and a bottle of what looked like rum. They staggered across the open field, toward the Union camp, boldly challenging. Union cavalry rode out to meet the soldiers, and a skirmish started. Before you knew it, the field exploded into a sea of blue and gray, as the Union lined up, and as Confederates came out to defend their fellow soldiers. Mounted horseman darted in and out of the lush mountain forest, taking shots. Battle lines were drawn, advance, with soldiers firing to hold the line. Generals ran up and down, executing orders. Battle flags waved defiantly as the troops stood their ground.
The Confederates advanced down the field. The Union stood, not coming out to meet the boys in gray. Cannons roared out shot after shot, from both sides of the field, echoing through the mountains in a loud roar. Still the Confederates advanced. Men began to fall on both sides, nurses and doctors flooding the field, looking to the health of the wounded. The battle raged on, with both sides fighting to hold that little strip of flat land in the mountains. Finally the Union advanced, beating the Confederates across the field, and all the way to their camp. Hand to hand combat erupted, then a dazzling sword fight. The Confederates were captured, the reenactment battle was over.
What exactly happened in Gatlinburg during the Civil War? There were Southern sympathizers and Northern supporters, but most people wanted to remain neutral during the war. Families worked hard to scratch out a living in the mountains of Northeast Tn.
There were general skirmishes in the area throughout the war. Troops from both sides would move in, take what supplies they could, and move on. Each army was always concerned with the raw materials needed to continue the war. Ingredients to make gunpowder were a top priority for both sides. Saltpeter, the oxidizing component of black powder, was mined near Alum Cave. Cave were a rich resource for saltpeter, from the crystallized deposits on cave walls.
Confederate Colonel Will Thomas occupied Gatlinburg to protect the salt peter mines. In the actual Battle of Burg Hill, the Federals marched from Knoxville and Sevierville, making their way into the mountains, near the TN/NC border. The Union forces intended to take the fort at Burg Hill and gain access to the valuable caves. The two armies fought, with more than 200 men fighting in the Battle of Burg Hill, over mountains and through the town of Gatlinburg. Casualities were low: none killed, a few wounded, one Union soldier was taken captive. More information can be found here.
Family details to plan for. Bring a chair or blanket to sit on. Plenty of space for picnicking, so feel free to bring lunch and enjoy on the beautiful battleground perimeter. "Facilities" were of the portable variety, but well stocked, clean, with hand sanitiser, and plenty of them! No running water at this reenactment that I saw, so bring some wet naps for general clean up.
Next year, the Battle of the Burg will be moving to July 4th weekend in 2010. Held on private land, off Ogle Road, you can park at nearby Mills Park and Gatlinburg Pittman High School (I Googled a map to the high school) and followed the signs. It was easy to find.
LivingHistorySites.com highly recommends grabbing your sunscreen and some chairs and heading off to the Battle of the Burg, and tell them we sent you!
The Battle of Gatlinburg will be held July 2-4, 2010.
Schedule of Events June 19-21, 2009 “Battle of Gatlinburg”
Friday June 19 6:00 PM Parade in Downtown Gatlinburg
Saturday June 6
9:00 A.M. Gates Open/ Post Colors & Special Ceremony
10:00 A.M. Officers Call (Big Tent)
11:30 (Noon) Meet The Generals
1:30 Troops form for Battle
2:00 Battle of the Burg (1st day)
3:00 Pass and Review
5:30 Dinner for the Troops (Big Tent)
Sunday June 7th-
9:00 A.M. Gates Open to the Public
10:30 A.M. Period Church Services (Big Tent)
11:30 Officers Call (Big Tent)
12:00 (Noon) Meet the Generals
1:00 P.M. (Skit)
1:30 Troops Form for Inspection
2:00 Battle of Gatlinburg (2nd Day)
3:30 Pass & Review