September 8, 2013

Battle of Tunnel Hill: ‘This whole area is history laden’

Rachel Brown

— TUNNEL HILL — As a couple hundred soldiers wearing blue and gray uniforms fired off rifles and cannons at each other, Tennessee farmer Rick Revel called the action from a stand outside the lines.

Revel explained to audience members about the movements on the battlefield as participants positioned and repositioned themselves Saturday afternoon for the annual Battle of Tunnel Hill re-enactment.

This year marks the 20th annual re-enactment of the Battle of Tunnel Hill as well as the battle’s 149th anniversary. The number of re-enactors was smaller this time, at about 200, down from 300 or so last time. That’s partly because of the economy and partly because so many people are putting their efforts toward the upcoming Battle of Chickamauga re-enactment which takes place in a few weeks, Revel said.

In the actual battle, 500 to 600 Confederate infantry kept about 4,500 Union troops from gaining a stronghold in Tunnel Hill not long before the larger Battle of Chickamauga.

If only the hills could talk, there are so many stories they could tell, Revel said, but many people don’t realize it.

“The whole area is history laden,” he said.

Revel said that while the Confederates initially held the area, they were later forced to retreat repeatedly, eventually all the way to Atlanta as Union Gen. William T. Sherman began his path not only of war but of destruction of civilian life.

That was one major difference between the Confederate and Union forces, said Revel, who has been in re-enacting since 1999. While there were soldiers on both sides who stole valuables from civilians for their personal use, Sherman’s men had orders to do that every chance they got. The official Confederate policy, however, was to shoot such thieves, referred to as “bummers,” Revel said.

“It’s amazing that house is still there,” Revel said, gesturing toward the Clisby Austin House, one of the historic structures open to the public during the weekend festivities. “This was a very well-kept area.”

The commemoration continues today with another re-enactment planned for 2 p.m. The battlefield is off of Clisby Austin Road, and there are signs from U.S. Highway 41 in Tunnel Hill directing motorists to the location. Admission is $10, but children younger than 12 get in free.

The annual battle re-enactment weekend also features sutlers who sell period crafts as well as food and drinks for the event. Some craftsmen and women set up tents to share with visitors how life used to be.

Acworth resident Lucy Sommer showed visitors her Wilcox and Gibbs sewing machine made in 1871. The machine was patented in 1857 by a man who saw a sewing machine in a picture and decided to make his own.

Unlike most modern sewing machines and the Singer machine at the time, the Wilcox and Gibbs model uses only one spool of thread instead of the typical bobbin and thread duo. Sommer propels the machine with a hand crank. It creates a stitch that makes a straight line on one side of the cloth and a chain pattern on the other side.

Sommer said she’s been sewing clothes, doll clothes and other items since she was 13.