The Civil War took Apalachicola by quiet, pensive storm last weekend.
It came by boat as Union soldiers and shackled slaves, and it came across Battery Park as bonneted ladies firing cannons.
It arrived in the script of scholarly papers, in the tall hat worn by preachers at a 19th century camp meeting and in the cutlass rattling at the sides of sailors strolling the pier.
It was brought in a comprehensive schedule that brought events throughout the city, all backed by and arranged for by the Apalachicola Maritime Museum, with the support of an assortment of community organizations.
“A lot of people worked very hard to make the weekend a success,” said Augusta West, the museum’s program coordinator, who worked closely with museum founder, George Kirvin Floyd, to make the event happen.
“This is the first year we did it, and it’s the largest and most ambitious event we’ve done.”
One unforgettable highlight of the weekend was the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation at Riverfront Park by Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson, flanked by two young Apalachicola black men, shirtless, and shackled in chains, with the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church Choir behind him in robes.
“We wanted to make every effort was made to tell the story of north-south, military-civilian, black-white, and not leave anybody out,” West said. “There are elements of history that have been neglected, here in Apalachicola. This is something we’ll expand on, to talk about black history. We know the Apalachicola River was a pathway to freedom for escaping slaves. They knew if they reached the blockade, the union employed black pilots.”
Early Saturday morning, representatives of the federal Navy arrived at the same park, portrayed by members of the Panhandle Players, to order the port closed. Jeff Ilardi spoke on behalf of Apalachicola’s then mayor, and nailed Lincoln’s proclamation up for public viewing.
“They actually based their dialogue on historical accounts of what happened to announce a proclamation,” said West.
On Saturday night, members of the Panhandle Players put on a dramatized adaptation of Alexander Key’s “Island Light” on the stage at the St. George Island Lighthouse. With Hank Kozlowsky as narrator, backed by at times comic, at times sentimental cast, the show attracted a packed outdoor house, and was well-received by the enthusiastic audience.
The numbers for the weekend were not overwhelming, but were steady, with the quality of the presentations eclipsing any similar event in recent memory.
West estimated that 304 people attended the eight lectures held over the weekend, both at the museum and the Center for History, Culture, and Art, with 459 visitors to the museum over the weekend. About 350 people visited the reenactors encampment at Battery Park.
“We planned to keep it small, tried to keep it small, for something we could build on in coming years,” she said. “It met and exceeded all our expectations in terms of attendance, enthusiasm, and the quality of all the lectures and events.”
The keynote lecture Friday evening at the museum drew a standing room only audience to hear a keynote speech by Ken Johnston, director of the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Georgia. Johnston delivered a stirring blend of historic fact with inspiration, on the meaning of living history.
The weekend marked the opening of a new Civil War exhibit at the museum, in large part due to the efforts of Mark Parsley, a longtime lover of Civil War history, born and raised in Richmond, Va., who has spent decades researching and collecting artifacts from Civil War sites.
Parsley helped select items the museum purchased for the exhibit, which is further enhanced by materials collected by Apalachicola librarian Caty Green for inclusion.
“When I was standing in the Confederate museum in downtown Richmond, I wanted to build something that had that type of flair, that same type of quality,” he said.
The Union encampment at Battery Park included members of the USS Fort Henry Living History Unit. Also taking part in different events were the crew of the USS Water Witch (affiliated with the National Civil War Naval Museum), and the USS Pawnee Marine Guard.
Members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, in period dress, from Crawfordville, Blountstown and Panama City, re-enacted the sewing of the regimental flag from Apalachicola as well as clothing and bandages for soldiers at the Raney and Orman House Museums.
Speakers on Saturday at the Apalachicola Center for History, Culture, and Art included Dr. Jon Sheppard, who holds a doctorate in history from Florida State, on the “Defense of Florida, 1861-1862,” and Sean Klimek, an Air Force officer studying for her FSU doctorate speaking on “Monitor v. Merrimac.”
David Gregory, a retired curator of education at the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee, spoke on “Skulkers and Deserters of the Gulf Coast;” Dr. Maurice Melton, a history professor at Albany State, spoke on slave Moses Dallas, who worked as a maritime pilot for the Confederate Navy; and Dr. Ed Wiser , an adjunct professor at the Naval War College, who talked about “James Tomb, Confederate Torpedo Boat Skipper.” The final lecture was given by Mark Curenton, a past president of the Apalachicola Area Historical Society, who traced the history and significance of the First Florida Federal Cavalry.
Robyn Rennick told stories about the “The Cape San Blas Salt Works Raid” at the Orman House, among several reenactors and living history people who offered events throughout town.
“Our primary goal was to forge partnerships and relationships between all the various organizations to work together to shine a spotlight of all the opportunities that exist here for historical and educational and appreciation,” said West.
She said they plan to do the weekend again next year, although are not sure at what time of the year. This depends in large part on the availability of reenactor groups, who often have to weigh competing events. Also, the Main Street group, which played a big part in this event, had just finished a busy plein air event, West said.
“We got a lot of positive feedback that was very encouraging,” she said.