In the long record of American military history, the longest genuine siege took place at the Port Hudson State Historic Site during the American Civil War. The original siege held for 17 days, but the 25th annual re-enactment will take place over a shorter period this weekend.
Marvin Steinback, an interpretative ranger with the Port Hudson State Historic Site, said Civil War veterans originally re-enacted battles in which they had participated, like the 1913 re-enactment of Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. Now, he said, the re-enactments are mostly treated as a family-friendly hobby, as well as “a way to honor and memorialize ancestors who were involved in a historical event.”
Steinback said the interest in the American Civil War spans the globe, with re-enactments taking place in Europe and Australia and re-enactors travelling to the U.S. to participate.
“Re-enactors study the history of the periods that they represent and keep history alive,” Steinback said. Steinback added that re-enactors often describe their craft as experimental archaeology, given that they reproduce items and equipment for these events.
Re-enactments like those at Port Hudson are dependent on a dedicated staff — volunteer and paid — to prepare, participate and clean up.
Volunteers range in ages and include University students, like political science and international studies junior John Ryan McGehee. McGehee has volunteered to participate in the re-enactments at Port Hudson for the past two years as part of the medical corps.
McGehee said these events are not expressing wishes to return those times, but to keep a part of history alive. He said for people in this area, remembering the role their ancestors played in the Confederacy is important.
“There are so many Southerners with pride for the Confederate states for the same reason that a higher percentage of Southerners are so zealously proud to be a part of the United States. We’re all patriots,” said history junior Andrew Delatte.
Delatte has participated at Port Hudon for the past two years, in the dueling and medical demonstrations. Delatte, who said he has always had an interest in the Civil War, also participates at the Jackson Crossroads re-enactment every year.
Delatte said the influence of a pre-Civil War “Southern code of honor” keeps Southern pride alive.
“It’s the fact that we as Southerners hold similar principles to our ancestors, who managed to hold off a better supplied foe more than twice their size for over four years in defense of their homes and their values,” Delatte said.
McGehee said the concept of Southern pride is expansive. He disagrees with those who say it breeds hate and intolerance.
“It’s about the love for our home and our state. It’s about tradition. Southern pride is as much a part of our culture as Mardi Gras, and it should be celebrated as such,” he said.
The re-enactment at Port Hudson is free to the public and will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. This year is the 150th anniversary of the battle at Port Hudson.