By Shannon Clinton
In the late August Kentucky heat in 1862, the Battle of Richmond was fought between Union and Confederate troops in the American Civil War.
“It was the second-largest Civil War battle in Kentucky, and it was the most decisive victory that either side had over the other during the entire war,” says David E. Jones, assistant director for Visit Richmond and past president of the Battle of Richmond Association.
According to the American Battlefield Trust, this battle was fought Aug. 29-30, 1862, making this year the 160th anniversary of Confederate Gen. Kirby Smith’s victory here over Union Gen. William “Bull” Nelson’s troops. The battle’s ultimate significance was revealed several days later as Kentucky’s capital, Frankfort, was overtaken by Confederate forces, the only Union capital to have done so during the war.
The ABT says 13,350 forces engaged in battle, nearly equal in number between the two sides, but the casualties were much more lopsided, with Union troops sustaining 4,900 of the total 5,650 estimated casualties, with about 4,000 captured and the remainder escaping, dead or wounded in battle.
Though reenactments have been held here off and on for a half-century, officially this year is the 16th for the reenactment in its current format, Jones said, though a two-year hiatus ensued due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Battlefield Park is one of the newer Civil War parks/sites and interpretive battlefields in the state, he added, as a movement arose over the past 16 or so years to preserve and interpret this property.
Typically there are about 300 reenactors participating, though some years have drawn up to 600, Jones said, some coming from as far away as Florida, Texas and Michigan. A couple thousand spectators regularly come for the reenactment and related activities, which include a Civil War-era baseball game on Saturday between the Cincinnati Redstockings and the Georgetown Gentlemen dressed in period costumes and playing by rules of this bygone time.
Richmond resident, Battle of Richmond Association board member and reenactor Chris Workman is a middle school history teacher in Berea who says he’s always had a deep interest in the American Civil War.
“I have had the pleasure of participating in the reenactment in a variety of ways over the years, serving with the Union infantry, artillery and dismounted cavalry, all of which helped me to gain new perspectives and deeper insights as to how the actual battle unfolded, and the things that our Civil War ancestors endured to help shape our nation into what it is today,” he said.
Workman, who’s identified ancestors who fought on both sides of this war, said though he’ll never know what it was really like for the soldiers in battle, participating in the reenactment gives him a keener perspective, unlike watching a movie or documentary or reading about it in a book.
“Feeling the heavy wool uniforms, tasting black powder between your teeth as you fumble a cartridge between your fingers rushing to reload your musket as you strain to hear the orders being shouted by the officers over the crackle of musket fire and the booming of cannon add a perspective that you can only gain by participating in an event,” he said.
Jones said during the Civil War vendors, or “sutlers” as they’re known, followed armies around selling goods, and their modern counterparts will be on hand selling period-specific items such as uniforms and other clothing, knives and antique art. When not participating in mock battle, reenactors will be on hand in their campsite areas to chat.
“It’s like a living history thing so you get to walk though and see what camp life was like,” Jones said.
Food vendors will be onsite, and the museum and visitor center will be open.
Battle of Richmond Visitor Center Curator Phillip Seyfrit, whose great-grandfather was a private in the Union army, said witnessing a reenactment is really spectacular.
“This year you’re going to be able to, of course, experience the roar of the cannons and the hooves of the cavalry and the movements of the infantry,” he said.
Seyfrit said there will also be a charitable element to this year’s event – both days a sock drive will be held to aid flood victims in eastern Kentucky. Attendees are asked to bring in new, prepackaged socks that can be dropped off at the information desk, at the visitor center or Mt. Zion Christian Church.
No dogs or other pets are allowed onsite except for service dogs, though Jones forewarns that loud cannon fire may startle them. He advises visitors to bring water and sunscreen as needed.
Workman encourages all to come experience the days’ events for themselves and gain a greater understanding of what troops went through and about our country’s roots.
“It is a family-friendly event, and we strongly encourage the entire family to come out and to go through the camps, speak with the reenactors, browse the sutlers and the vendors, and take in a period baseball game or church service,” he said. “There is an interaction between people at events like these that you really can’t find anywhere else.”
While in Richmond, Jones said visitors can dine in the wide variety of restaurants here, Fort Boonesborough and Whitehall State Historic Site will be open, as well as Chenault Vineyards and Dreaming Creek Brewery.
If you’re not able to attend the reenactment and related activities, the Battle of Richmond Visitor Center is open on weekdays 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Battlefield Park is open daily 6 a.m.-8 p.m. Visit www.battleofrichmond.com for more information about this event.
What: Battle of Richmond Reenactment
Where: Battlefield Park at Pleasant View, 1546 Battlefield Memorial Hwy., Richmond, KY
When: Aug. 27-28, 2022. Park open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. each day. Battle reenactment is at 2 p.m., vendors and events each day including 10:30 a.m. Saturday’s vintage baseball game.
Cost: $10 parking fee, admission is otherwise free.