The “Battle For the Rails” event is hosted by the 31st and 38th Tennessee, of Cleburne’s Division.
Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, with many as living history re-enactors, strive to educate others concerning the turbulent years of the historic war torn 1861-1865 era, and about our ancestors, the men and women who lived through this awful time in our history, during that period known as the War Between the States, or the Civil War.
The state of Tennessee, was second only to the state of Virginia for the highest number of battles fought on her native soil during that time of great conflict, from 1861- 1864. Because of the diverse national and political opinions and patronages that existed in Tennessee during that era, especially in East Tennessee, this area was quintessential of the events of this great conflict.
The war experienced for this region brought the conflict literally between families with cousin against cousin, brother against brother, father against son, and as a result, much of the social and economic fabric of East Tennessee was torn apart.
Today, as the Sesquicentennial of that American Civil War is at hand, it is important that we recall those historic events of that time, recognizing the dedication and patriotism of the participants (both Confederate and Union), and the losses felt by families on both sides of the conflict.
The historical significance of the Sweetwater, as related to the Civil War, include its connections to General Longstreet and General Vaughn, as well as the numerous fierce skirmishes fought for control of the vital rail road line and rich Sweetwater Valley.
These reasons are the major contributing factors influencing the Cleburne’s Division of the SCV to host this event. General John C. Vaughn (The last confederate general) was born in Madisonville and lived in Sweetwater. He owned and maintained a hotel along the railroad line, as well as being in business with his brother-in-law, a politician, military leader, and statesman.
East Tennessee towns such as Athens and Sweetwater were important supply depots and both sides felt the need to control them, in order to control commerce along the railroad. Although the skirmishes along the railroad line were not as notable as the major battles like Shiloh, Manassas, Chattanooga, or Chickamauga, these skirmishes were often very fierce.
Additionally, Gen. Longstreet in November 1863, used Sweetwater as his staging area for an assault on Union forces at Knoxville.
The "Battle for the Rails" re-enactment events will held on the dates of Saturday and Sunday and will be held at Sweetwater Flea Market area (on the hilltop just west of the Flea Market proper).
The gates will open at 8 a.m. Saturday, with the “Posting of the Flags” ceremony at 8:30 a.m.. Soldier camps will be open to the public from 9 to 9:30 a.m. and periodically throughout the event. During this time, too, visitors will be able to meet Gen. James Longstreet (portrayed by Bill White).
Many period displays will include weapons, cannon, medical equipment, and era furnishings, with both civilian and military reenactors in period clothing. Visitors will be able to speak with the soldiers (re-enactors) and also meet with members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy,
The first skirmish will take place at approximately 9:45 a.m.and will include infantry and artillery engagements.
These types of re-enactments are meant to foster a better understanding of the history of the Civil War, how the men and women lived, the sacrifices and deprivations of the times, and the hardships endured by soldier and civilian alike.
The “Battle For the Rails” emphasizes the role played by the rail lines and depots in East Tennessee, specifically in Monroe and McMinn Counties.
Among the many scheduled events, period fiddle music will also be performed for the public throughout the event by special guest, John L. VanArsdall, a award winning Tennessee performing artist who is more commonly known by many as "CanJoe*John."
Having been awarded the North American Country Music International (NACMAI) 2007 Bluegrass Instrumentalist of the Year and also having the distinction of performing on the Grand Ole Opry, CanJoe John is a highly accomplished traditional fiddler who is often seen and heard at many Civil War period events throughout the Appalachian region.
He grew up in Cleveland, attended and graduated from Cleveland High School in the early 1970s.