Jonesboro battle recreated through living historians

By Justin Boron

The blacksmith pounded his steel, the soldiers cooked over fires, and the cannons boomed.

History's relics and personalities were re-enlivened this weekend in Jonesboro during the town's annual commemoration of a bloody Civil War battle that helped pave the way for Union Major Gen. William T. Sherman to enter Atlanta.

Amid clouds of black powder smoke, more than 200 living historians portraying Union and Confederate soldiers clashed while spectators watched from bleachers on the sidelines.

The Autumn Oaks Festival also took place during the weekend with a fiddle competition, olde time band competition, and a performance by Faculty Grass on Sunday.

The first day of the Battle of Jonesboro (spelled Jonesborough at the time) re-enactment began with a skirmish in the woods and eventually escalated to cannon fire and close-range shooting.

During the second day of mock-fighting, the federal side gained momentum in the back-and-forth struggle and forced a strategical win.

The fight, which took place in 1864 from Aug. 31 to Sept. 1, resulted in more than 5,000 casualties.

Some re-enactors depicted the injured. But it was nowhere near the gruesome scenes during the actual battle.

The cannon fire in 1864 was strong enough to blow holes in the bodies of soldiers, said Rick Metros, a Confederate re-enactor from McDonough.

”Those are not just figures of speech, that's actually what happened,“ he said.

Although the cannons this weekend weren't as loud as the actual battle, they could still be heard throughout the town.

Up close, they were ear-ringing.

Some of the soldiers and spectators wore earplugs or covered their ears.

But for others, it was just part of the show.

”We're immune to it,“ said Hunter Poythress, commander of the federal side of the battle .

Many of the re-enactors spent the night between two days of mock-battle on the site, camping, cooking, and enjoying each others' camaraderie.

The extent to which the re-enactment is taken depends on the person, Poythress said.

Some slept in ”rifle holes,“ some stayed in period tents, and those who brought their families with them were part of what Poythress called the ”motel militia.“

Others went as far as to cook period rations.

For spectators, the re-enactors commitment to authenticity means a more immersive experience.

But Poythress said once the camps close to the public, ”you're doing it for yourself.“