History comes to life on Sabine River
The Civil War returned to Calcasieu Parish, La., but only for a weekend.
Niblett’s Bluff Park near Vinton – built on the site of the former Camp Pleasant – was active from early 1863 until the end of the war in 1865. Camp Pleasant was constructed of earthen breastworks on the low bluff bank of the Sabine River.
Members of Spaight’s Battalion occupied the fort, ready to intercept any Federal forces trying to disrupt shipping and occupy Confederate river ports on the Sabine north of Orange.
After Federal forces were repelled at the Battle of Sabine Pass, no other effort was made to venture up the Sabine. Spaight’s Battalion’s time at Camp Pleasant would not face any military action but the soldiers would be decimated by another enemy, measles. An epidemic of measles would cause the death of 30 of the Confederate soldiers. Their deaths are memorized by a small memorial across the road from the small church by the park.
Each spring members of local Civil War re-enactment groups gather at Niblett’s Bluff, camp with period equipment, wear period clothing and use equipment faithful to that of the military of the Confederate and Union troops. Attendance at this year’s re-enactment was marred by severe weather.
The tents used by the re-enactors are made of canvas, with no floors and are replicas of those used in the Civil War period. Some campers were wet while others were relatively dry. All had camped in better conditions, but were making the best of the situation.
“There will not be much cooking this weekend,” said Jeanette Peveto as she looked at her fire pit full of water with firewood floating on top. Jeanette’s husband, Kenny Peveto is the sergeant in charge of the artillery crew of the 3rd Texas Light Infantry.
Civil War re-enactors are a dedicated group of people interested in bringing the history of the Civil War alive and accurately portraying the history and not the politics of the time. Being dedicated to history, they have to be agreeable to at times wear the colors of the opposition. This weekend members of Spaights’ Battalion re-enactors wore the blue of the 70th Illinois Infantry.
As the re-enactment began, the lone Illinois howitzer and a handful of infantry would face three howitzers of the 3rd Texas. The pseudo battle would take place on the north end of the park near the remainder of the original breastworks of Camp Pleasant. At 1 p.m., Lt. Jason Thibodeaux, commander of the 70th Illinois, drew his saber and ordered his men forward. The infantry advanced a few yards, knelt on the wet ground and fired a volley of rifle shots.
The lone Confederate infantryman answered with a shot of his own and the battle commenced. The Yankees advanced several more yards, knelt and fired. After advancement and more shots by the Yankees, the Confederate commander of the 3rd Texas artillery gave the order to fire the howitzers. They fired from left to right, and each loud shot was accompanied by a large cloud of white smoke. At times the howitzers were completely hidden by the smoke. As the howitzers fired their charges of half-pound of black powder as flame could be seen jumping from the muzzle of the howitzer. After the last open field advancement and the “death” of one Yankee infantryman; the Bluecoats were ordered to their right and into the trees on the river bank.
From behind the trees they engaged the lone “Rebel” infantryman, finally “wounding” him in the right leg. He was dragged to safety by a “powder monkey” of the 3rd Texas. After 30 minutes of heavy fire from the 3rd Texas howitzers, the out gunned blue-coated infantry retreated into the heavy woods. The 70th Illinois howitzer crew began to drag their gun to safety. They were heard to shout, “We’re going back to Illinois.” The battle was a definite Confederate victory, much to the delight of the 200 or so spectators.
At the conclusion of the battle, the 70th Illinois reformed and marched to in front of the spectators. Thibodeaux and the group fired a volley to the honor of soldiers who died from a measles epidemic in the camp.
The re-enactment takes place each spring in the park. There are many types of vendors that attend to sell crafts, art and artifacts. Food vendors also set up and sell a variety of food and drinks, and the Southwest Louisiana Flintknappers demonstrate their craft. The park provides RV sites, camp sites, cabins, restroom, showers and laundry facilities.