Today's Commercial Appeal describes yesterday's celebration of the Battle of Collierville. "At the Collierville Historic Train Depot, it was 1862. Women dressed in hoop skirts and bonnets socialized on the platform. Across the street on the town square, it was 2012. Dozens of digital cameras and iPhones were out, waiting to capture the events that would soon unfold.
"Although exact details are debated, local members of Sons of Confederate Veterans reenacted Collierville's capture and surrender to Union Troops in June 1862, marking the 150th anniversary of the Civil War event. After an introduction to the Civil War history of Collierville from Wigfall Greys Camp, SCV Commander Ed Cotter, a few shots fired into the air let the crowd know exactly what was coming — the Yankees.
"Confederate re-enactors fired as they backed down the street, but the Union forces advanced. The women of the town did their part to deter the advance by throwing tomatoes at the federal soldiers. Just minutes later, the Union Army captured Collierville. Then-Mayor John Williford, portrayed by a top hat-wearing current Mayor Stan Joyner, was called out from his office to surrender the town, but not before a member of the crowd yelled, "Don't do it!"
"Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, played by Collierville's Curt Fields, was on hand to accept the surrender and give a brief speech about protecting the Memphis and Charleston Railroad before the conclusion of the re-enactment.
"Not everyone is so sure of what really happened in Collierville 150 years ago. Gary L. Donhardt, author of "On the Road to Memphis with General Ulysses S. Grant," said not only was Grant not at the square, there was not a battle in Collierville or an occupation of the town at that time. According to an excerpt from "On the Road," Grant only stopped in Collierville long enough to have a glass of water with a local man, Josiah Deloach. Grant left before lunch and was in Memphis soon after, where he established the Union Headquarters at the William R. Hunt House on Beale Street."
According to another version of the story, the Union and Confederate soldiers fought one of the bloodiest battles in Shelby County in Collierville. The Battle of Collierville was centered around the depot where Union General William T. Sherman’s train arrived from Memphis around noon on Sunday, October 11, 1863. Sherman was headed for Chattanooga to join Grant, and the Confederates hoped to stop him by damaging the track at this point. The Union soldiers successfully defended the train depot from the Confederates, but the town was burned to the ground with only a few buildings surviving.
Whichever story is the factual one, I am enjoying watching my adopted state participate in the Sesquicentennial events. I'm seeing lots of nostalgia, a good measure of local pride, and--at the same time--a cheerful acceptance of Rebel and Yankee alike. In the face of current political rancor, it's a refreshing and reassuring change of pace.