By Ron Kelley
(August 2011 Civil War News - Preservation Column)
What began as a historical preservation pipe dream in 2008 has developed into the model Civil War battle site preservation project in Arkansas.
Only three years ago, the Reed’s Bridge Battlefield consisted of nothing more than a few acres maintained by the City of Jacksonville and an interpretative panel, and it was a haven for drug dealers, prostitutes and homeless vagabonds.
Today, that same property has been transformed into a destination for Civil War enthusiasts.
In 2008, living historian Steve Shore began sketching a layout of a 19th-century homestead incorporated into the overall plan for the preservation of the Reed’s Bridge Battlefield. By Nov. 22, 2008, Shore and a multitude of historians, reenactors and high school students began clearing thick underbrush and felling numerous trees an acre at a time.
Trees that were cut down were incorporated into various projects, including split-rail fencing and a reproduction 19th-century cabin. The following year, a barn, kitchen and garden had been added to the homestead site.
By the 147th anniversary of the battle in August 2010, construction had begun on a period home. As the Reed’s Bridge Battlefield Preservation Society, which was founded in 1997, prepares for the 148th anniversary battle on Aug. 27-28, the completion of the homestead has Arkansas Civil War enthusiasts excited.
The homestead site is only part of the overall battlefield preservation effort. The Veterans of Foreign Wars in Jacksonville has helped raise funds for a replica Model 1841 cannon on aluminum carriage which sits at the entrance of the park. A walking trail and a canoe landing have likewise been incorporated into the site, making Reed’s Bridge a great place for the heritage tourist to visit.
No detail fails to escape preservation society president Ann Hooper. To maintain an accurate representation of 19th-century life, Hooper donated “heritage seeds” that most closely resemble the seeds of 150 years ago to the homestead garden.
The homestead is on a seven-acre lot. In addition, Reed’s Bridge Battlefield Preservation Society owns 110 acres of the original battlefield. The acreage consists of tracts of land no larger than 15 acres scattered in the vicinity of the battlefield. Resembling a patchwork, more acreage will be encompassed over time, enlarging the scope of the preservation.
The labor involved in preserving the site has been donated by volunteers, including members of the Reed’s Bridge society, living historians, Sons of Confederate Veterans and Sons of Union Veterans members, the Civil War Round Table of Arkansas, Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commissioners, the Arkansas Department of Heritage, the City of Jacksonville and many others.
According to Mrs. Hooper, the next long-term goal includes construction of a visitor center to aid in interpreting the 1863 battle. Also known as the Battle of Bayou Meto, Reed’s Bridge Battlefield has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, meeting “Criterion A” for its national significance as being the most intact of the battlefields associated with the Little Rock Campaign.
There, on Aug. 27, 1863, Confederate forces held back the Union Army’s attempt to take Arkansas’ capitol city, which finally fell to Federal control on Sept. 10, 1863.
Confederate and Federal troops were not the only ones who used the bridge that spans Bayou Meto. The site was also significant in the removal of Native Americans on the Trail of Tears as countless Indians made their way across the Bayou 30 years before the Civil War battle.
As Mrs. Hooper noted, “After all, how many Civil War battlefields have the Trail of Tears running through the middle of them? That is another thing that makes this property so special.”
Aside from the signage and interpretative panel on the battlefield, Reed’s Bridge Battlefield Preservation Society also offers tours for senior citizens, students and visitors wanting to know more about the 1863 site.
For information about Reed’s Bridge Battlefield tours, contact Ann Hooper at (501) 831-8247. The Web site is www.reedsbridgebattlefield.org/
Ron Kelley is a syndicated columnist specializing in the Civil War in Arkansas and editor of Arkansastoothpick.com. He is vice chair of the Friends of Jenkins Ferry Battlefield and co-founder of the Jefferson County Civil War Sesquicentennial Collaborative in Pine Bluff and is an Arkansas Division officer of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.