By Greg Gelpi
Artillery fire spit puffs of smoke across the hilly battlefield as the black powder haze transported packed stands of spectators back to the days of the Civil War.
"Living historians" retraced the steps of the Battle of Jonesboro this weekend on the grounds of Stately Oaks Plantation, where Union soldiers commandeered the house and battled Confederate soldiers 140 years ago.
Union soldiers in a raiding party, including Jonesboro's Kiev Thomason, commandeered the plantation, portraying the actions that preceded the Battle of Jonesboro.
Thomason, a sergeant major, said the Union troops "slaughtered" more than 200 men with bayonets and were "shock troops" similar to the German SS.
The battle also claimed the life of the first Catholic chaplain killed on the battlefield in an American war. The Rev. Emmeran Bliemel was killed while he prayed over the body of Col. William Grace.
Usually, 34-year-old Hunter Poythress works as a water and waste water consultant, but climbing the ranks he served as the commander of the Union army during the weekend's re-enactment.
Poythress recalled observing re-enactments as a child with his father and became a re-enactor himself after completing his service in the U.S. Air Force.
"Once you put on the uniform and step back in time, we're all the same," he said.
The grounds of the plantation were transported back to 1864 as "living history" exhibits and demonstrations brought the images captured in history books to life.
Hesitant at first, Katie Johnson, 2, dipped her fingers in water and slid them along wet clay as Caroline Warren showed her how to make pottery.
Warren spun the potter's wheel, and Johnson molded the clump of clay as it continued to whirl around.
Forest Park High School teacher Lorien Gant arranged tussey-mussies, floral arrangements designed during Victorian times. Each flower in the arrangement holds a particular meaning, and Victorians used the arrangements to express themselves, rather than expressing the same thoughts in words.
In addition to the local artisans, master blacksmith Jim Wilson came from North Carolina. Wilson and journeyman Jim Lewis practiced their craft by designing tools for the plantation and forging items for visitors.
"Once you get iron in your blood, you'll never see a blacksmith drinking Geritol," the 64-year-old sixth generation metalworker said. "There's something about a piece of steel, it's cold, it's hard and forcing it to do what you want it to do. It's almost Zen-like. It's mystical."
From Aug. 31 to Sept. 1, 1864, more than 5,000 men from the North and the South died in the battle of Jonesboro.
The Union defeat of the Confederate forces of the battle opened the way for Union Major Gen. William T. Sherman to enter Atlanta.
A memorial service was held Sunday at the Jonesboro Cemetery for those who died in the battle. At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the Knights of Columbus will remember Bliemel with a service at the old Clayton County courthouse.