Leader Blues

Friday, August 29, 2008

TOP STORY > >Reed’s Bridge reenactors arrive

Leader staff writer

The road runs south out of Jacksonville
‘til it crosses this sluggish stream;
the fog hangs low on Bayou Meto,
and the past floats by like a dream.
Ghosts keep a watch on this crossing,
where Reed’s Bridge used to stand,
and an army in blue was topped by a few
of the finest men in the land.

So goes a poem by Jim Barton of Huttig, and those “finest men” will defend Reed’s Bridge again at 2 p.m. this afternoon and once more at 2 p.m. Sunday as reenactors from across the region converge onto the battlefield site off Hwy. 161, at the southern edge of Jacksonville.

Judy Downs, of Pine Bluff, a member of the Northeast Arkansas Living Historians, and her husband Jimmy, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the 7th Arkansas reenactors’ group, will be among those participating.

Judy Downs will also be putting on a Civil War-era dance at 7 p.m. Saturday at the community center. “Many of us will be in period costumes,” Downs said, adding that the dance is open to everyone. Dancers, young and old, will move to music from that period, such as “Wait For the Wagon,” “Dixie” and “Soldier’s Joy.”

Downs said no one should be shy about getting out and trying the circle dances. “We review the steps and practice before we dance to the music,” she said.

Downs and her family have been involved in reenactments since 1987 and participated in the 140th anniversary of Gettysburg 10 years ago. “That had to be the biggest event for our family,” she said.

Civil War fans like Downs usual attend an event once a month. “There’s always something going on,” she said.

The poem goes on:

The steep banks of Bayou Meto
provided a natural wall–
along this ridge and near this bridge
the rebels would fight or fall.

The Battle of Reed’s Bridge in 1863 was an effort to slow down the Union march and eventual control of Little Rock.

Confederate Major Gen. Sterling Price sent two of his top calvary units under the command of Brig. Gen. John Marmaduke and Brig. Gen. Lucius M. Walker out to Reed’s Bridge just south of Jacksonville to slow the Union forces.

On Aug. 26, 1863, the Confederate Calvary and Union forces collided along the Bayou Meto and Reed’s Bridge.

Try as they might, the Yankees’ best fight
couldn’t knuckle the southerners under.
The military road ran both ways –
to the Capital and to Tennessee –
the Yankees had tried, and many had died,
now they turned tail up that road to flee.

The job of the Confederate troops was to simply hold out for as long as possible. During the battle, the Confederate troops set fire to the original Reed’s Bridge. As Union troops ran to put out the flames, the Confederate troops opened fire, killing seven, wounding 38 and delaying the Union advance.

But the battle was not all glory for the Confederacy. As they pulled back, closer to Little Rock, General Marmaduke supposedly accused General Walker of cowardice during the Battle at Reed’s Bridge. The accusations were quickly settled with a duel between the generals.

Both generals fired once, missing.

Marmaduke then fired his 1851 Navy Colt once more, hitting Walker with a shot that sliced through his right kidney and lodged in his spine. Walker died the next day, requesting on his deathbed that his friends “neither prosecute, nor persecute” Marmaduke. He was buried Sept. 8, 1863 in Little Rock’s Mount Holly Cemetery, the victim of the last duel fought in Arkansas.

A marker now stands off the shoulder
that tells of the battle that day.
The bayou still runs beneath setting sun
as folks cross the bridge on their way
south toward the Capital of Little Rock,
which still stands proud and true.
So snap a salute to old Southern roots
as grey skies turn slowly blue.

The 412-acre Civil War park is one of the best preserved in the state and is maintained by the Reed’s Bridge Historical Society.