This week’s installment of Kevin Hits The Road takes us to Mansfield State Historic Site, part of the location of the Battle of Mansfield. The Park is located a few miles southwest of Mansfield on Highway 175, a short and worthwhile drive from anywhere in our community.
The Battle of Mansfield was part of the ill-fated Red River Campaign, a Union offensive intended to drive a wedge between Texas and the rest of the Confederacy. Some 30,000 soldiers from the Union and CSA fought a series of engagements over miles of territory around the city in April,1864. The Mansfield State Historic Site’s 178 acres encompasses the place where most of the significant clashes occurred. As one turns into the park, there are several memorials that date from the 1920’s. Shortly afterwards, one arrives at a modern visitor’s center and museum.
As has been the case at every single place I have visited, the staff is welcoming and knowledgeable. Their obvious enthusiasm for their site and its history ensures a wonderful visitor experience. Scott Dearman, the park’s site manager, took my wife and I for a battlefield tour in which he explained the chronology of the battle as well as features such as forested areas that are not the same today as then. Looking at the actual battlefield gives one a greater appreciation and understanding of the events as they unfolded. Interpretive Ranger Aaron Gates gave us a tour of the site’s superb museum. The museum has a range of displays and artifacts that explore many facets of the battle and the era in which it was fought. The staff’s extensive knowledge gives visitors historical lagniappe such as learning that the Mansfield City Cemetery holds a commemorative marker for 86 unknown casualties from the battle.
Did you know that Louisiana supplied 24,000 African American soldiers to the Union Army, the largest number of any state, and that the 84th United States Colored Troops (USCT) fought with the Union forces at the Battle of Pleasant Hill? The museum has a display that traces the history of African American Soldiers in the Civil War, from the 1861 Corps d’ Afrique that went on to become the USCT, the forerunner of the famous Buffalo Soldiers.
The museum has a section on medical care in the Civil War and the role of the surrounding communities in their care. The museum also showcases “Letters from the Battlefield” in which excerpts from soldier’s letters home illustrate the soldiers’ lives.
One of the more interesting displays in the museum details two women who disguised themselves as men and fought in the battle. Jennie Hodgers was born in Belfast, Ireland and fought in 40 battles and skirmishes under the alias of PVT Albert DJ Cashier with the 95th Illinois Regiment. Sarah Rosetta Wakeman fought with the 153rd NY Infantry in the Battle of Pleasant Hill. She survived the battle but fell victim to disease in the retreat afterwards. She died on June 19, 1864 and is buried in Chalmette National Cemetery under her male alias Lyons Wakeman.
From the bronze painted plaster model of the Louisiana Memorial at Gettysburg to a section on Prince Camille de Polignac, a Confederate commander who got his first military experience as an officer in the French Army during the Crimean War, the museum is a true delight for history lovers.
The museum’s admission is $4.00 and is free to senior citizens 62 and older. Children 3 and under are free as well. The museum is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. The hours are 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
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