Union soldiers take control of the Fort Smith National Historic Site


story and photos by Linda Kaufenberg

It was 1864 for a day at Fort Smith National Historic Site as Union soldiers took control of the grounds.

Hot and muggy, men and women endured the heat in period clothes. Small sleeping tents were lined in a row while larger tents offered information about the period. Susan Trisler presented the duties of a Civil War laundress allowing children to take a hand at a wash board.

"This is not so hard," said one young man, Caleb Gregory.

But then his mother reminded him that he had to draw the water from the well, heat some of the water over a fire and then wash everything the regiment needed cleaned. When asked about ironing the clothes, Trisler said usually only the officer's uniforms were ironed.

After firing off the cannons, the park staff explained the duties of all the cannoneers.
• The sponge rammer — He was the one who rammed the cartridge down the cannon. Before it was rammed, the sponge was dipped in water and the cannon's barrel was cleaned to make sure all fire from previous firings was extinguished.

• The worm — This is a tool for extracting the round in case the shell does not come out. This man also puts the round in the barrel. To protect his company, his back is to the enemy when he inserts the round so the enemy cannot shoot the round while it is in his hands and injure or kill all the cannoneers.

• Thumbstock — This is used to plug up the priming hole so no oxygen gets in while shooting the cannon. He is also responsible for using the priming wire to clean out the area before each shot.

• Friction primer — This is the most fun job as he shoots the gun.

• Powder monkey — The powder monkey runs from the back to the front with the gun powder. He wears a bag to protect the rounds.

• Gunners — There are two types; one sights with a pendulum hess whick is removable. The other one using cannoneer No. 3 when he is in position ramming the charge to sight the gun.

In another demonstration, the infantry shot Civil War artillery and muskets.

Under a tree, Rachel Ammons, David Holland and Smiling Bob Lewis, "Hawk and Buzzard Band," played music from the era.

At Fort Smith National Historic Site, visitors can walk where soldiers drilled, pause along the Trail of Tears, and stand where justice was served. The park includes the remains of two frontier forts and the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas. Federal Judge Isaac C. Parker, known as the "Hanging Judge," presided over the court for 21 years. Fort Smith National Historic Site is located in downtown Fort Smith along the Arkansas River.




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