I had just gotten out of the service, a paratrooper in the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I was hitchhiking home in uniform to Fort Worth Texas on the old US 80, before the interstates came through. A ride dropped me off in downtown Selma, and I walked through the business district across what I later learned was the Norman Pettis bridge over the Alabama River. I was stunned at the amount of refuse and litter near the bridge. It looked like a tornado had just swept over that bridge. I didn’t learn until three days later about the storm on that bridge.
That was 50 years ago. Now I found myself on those same streets, downtown oddly reminding me of my previous visit. Sure there were stores like Walgreen’s, CVS, Church’s Fried Chicken and Burger King, but a lot of the buildings looked exactly as they did that March day in 1965. The bridge was still there, and the highway beyond looked much the same as I remembered, minus the debris and litter.
I had traveled south from Knoxville for the 150th reenactment of the Battle of Selma, meeting up with a grizzled veteran reenactor traveling from Texas. The city hosts the event annually, and has done an amazing job of erecting permanent barricades in Battlefield Park, not far from the Alabama River. The April 1865 Society, Inc. has recently installed nine markers throughout the city, describing events at the site in 1865.
A total of twenty are planned. Reenactors were given a packet containing information on the city, and it’s importance in March of 1865.
Selma had an arsenal, a powder mill, nitre works, a foundry producing shot and shell, and an iron works. Industry produced steam machinery, boilers, and engines. A naval yard and cotton and wool factories made Selma the industrial center of the region. The ironclad “Tennessee,” flagship of Admiral Franklin Buchanan, was built in Selma. It steamed out as a lone ironclad to meet Farragut’s fleet in the battle of Mobile Bay. Selma was such a thorn in the side of the North that three attempts were made to destroy it before Selma fell.
All of the expected amenities of a reenactment event were top notch, the sole exception being a shortage of 150th event tee-shirts. Thursday and Friday groups of school children toured living history sites, buying all but a few. The city really pulled all the bells and whistles to make the event a success and my slouch hat is off to the city fathers and 1865 society for working so hard to make the event memorable.
If the reenactment didn’t get your Southern blood flowing, the Sunday visit and ceremony at the Live Oak Cemetery near the park grabbed you by the throat and gave you a quick study in humility, sacrifice, and heritage. A “who’s who” of the Confederacy are interred there, including Lt. General William Hardee, author of Hardee’s Tactics and designer of the “Hardee Hat.” The immense oaks, magnolias, and Spanish moss almost made me a time traveler, leaving no doubt I was standing in the bosom of the Southland, in the footprints of our forefathers, in Selma Alabama.
-1st Corporal Robert Grumble Hayden
63rd Tennessee Infantry
6th Texas Infantry Alamo Rifles