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SELMA, LORD, SELMA
by Charlie McCulloh

Selma was the first reenactment I ever went to as a spectator, it was the first reenactment I went to as a reenactor. I camped civilian in a Nylon tent, wearing a truly bizarre costume that I had cobbled together from “the Skinners” on Sutlers Row. Looking at Ruth and myself posing in that first reenacting photo only makes me shudder. We were just then starting  the hobby/lifestyle/allconsumingthing. Everybody has to start somewhere....and Selma is just right for fresh fish. Static battleground, close spectators, beautiful setting for a wonderful period ball......AND...the whole town supporting a City wide event. The 33rd Alabama has always been fine host and put on a great event, despite the uncooperative weather we sometimes have in April. The good Colonel astride his mighty war steed directing his loyal and brave troops against the overwhelming Yankee Mercenaries is good for Selma AND Reenacting.

The actual battle, as most of you know, was an assault by mounted and dismounted cavalry. No, not the pseudo “Yosemite Sam/Josey Wales” impersonators you see at some  reenactments, but campaign hardened Midwest troops armed with repeating carbines. They attacked an outnumbered cavalry force led by “Ol’ Bedford” and were supplemented by Alabama  Militia. The Militia was spread thin in the miles of works around Selma.....it was hoped that the Militia could hold off the attackers until help could arrive. They could not.

The Alabama Militia as evoked by Executive Decree from Gov. John Gill Shorter on December 22, 1862 (O.R.SeriesIV, Vol. II). The Governor calls for all men not available for conscription to form companies of .....“ a Captain, two Lieutenants, four Sergeants, four Corporals and forty Privates”.  The muster roll was then taken and forwarded to the Adjutant-General of Alabama Militia, General H. P. Watson. All militia would provide their own clothes, blankets and if possible their own arms. The Governor  directed that drill be held on a regular basis but should not interfere with productive war work. There are several battalions listed in the Alabama service records. These units are listed as numbered Militia Battalions and have muster rolls on file.

Imagine this at the Selma Reenactment, not this one.....but maybe the next. A unit files by the crowd, some in shirt sleeves, some dressed in blue, black and brown civilian jackets. Some in checked pants and suits, some in old brown farm rough jeans. Old blankets and quilts as bedrolls. Slouch hats, top hats, straw hats. Old, very young and convalescing men armed with rifles, smooth bores and percussion shotguns. They have on cartridge boxes and cap pouches, and are equipped with canteens and bayonets where needed...Selma is a depot town and there should have been enough equipment for the hurriedly called Militia to be outfitted. Their Captain calls them into line, he is a regular army captain on convalescing leave...perhaps with a sleeve pinned up from an amputated arm, but at least with some form of bandage. They dress and are placed at the wall between the regular troops. They give a good account of themselves for the first wave of attacks, many are shot down.....but on that last Yankee push.....they break and run, and I mean RUN LIKE HELL. The NCO’s try and slow them down but can’t. Tossing off ‘cooters and dropping arms. Run right by the crowd, probably amid hoots and boos, with a panicked expression and wild eyes. I can’t think of anything more authentic than Alabama Militia at any of the battles reenacted on Alabama soil. It might require a little extra kit work and maybe some MORE money (as if you haven’t spent enough already), but it certainly would be an impression that would educate the public and represent the war as fought by something other than the major armies.                       

What do YOU think?