Flag Day brings the cannons out

Published 10:52 am Thursday, March 9, 2017

Smoke fills the air after cannon fire. Clanton’s Battery members are not Civil War re-enactors, but a group that attends memorials, funerals and other special events throughout south and central Alabama. Angie Long/ Journal Photo

The loud crack of small cannon fire resounded in the woodlands near Brantley last Saturday, as men in Confederate grey stood by their artillery and musicians in period costume performed songs from days gone by.

It was all part of Confederate Flag Day at the Dry Creek RV Camp.

A flag raising was held in the morning with the unveiling of a new Confederate memorial at the site in the early afternoon. Periodically throughout the day, the men and women of Clanton’s Battery, 1st Battalion of Alabama’s Light Artillery, fired the four historic guns, actually small cannons, for those in attendance. Some youngsters—ear protectors in place—were also given the chance to fire the cannons themselves.

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“The original Clanton’s Battery was founded by farmers in Pine Level in 1863,” explained Ray Kyle of Elba, commander of the 27-member group. “Once activated, those soldiers went to Mobile to serve. They saw some action toward the end of the war. It didn’t end well for them; all the guns were captured and the men either killed or taken prisoner.”

Kyle had the idea of putting an artillery group together and he and Dry Creek Camp owner David Scoggins each contributed two guns for the group to use.

“We aren’t re-enactors; we have a lot of older fellows including me who just aren’t up to running up and down hills pushing and pulling these guns,” said Kyle, who is in his mid-70s. “But we are happy to go anywhere to display and fire the guns at different events—memorials for veterans from the Revolutionary War right through to the Gulf wars, any veteran’s funeral, marker and monument dedications, those kinds of things.”

While many of Clanton’s Battery members are the descendants of Civil War soldiers and veterans themselves, Kyle, a descendant of both Revolutionary War and Civil War soldiers and a Vietnam War veteran himself, said these were not requirements to join the group.

“We welcome anyone of any background who has respect for those who served. We are all about honoring and respecting all of our veterans,” he said. “We’ve been at a memorial to a Revolutionary War soldier. And we also just recently gave a proper salute to a Vietnam veteran who had been awarded the Purple Heart.”

Kyle does expect battery members to be on their best behavior. “There’s a code of conduct for our members. You behave like a gentleman. Treat women like ladies. No bad language and absolutely no drinking.” He paused and shook his head. “Let’s just say alcohol and gunpowder do not mix well.”

Clanton’s Battery members undergo extensive safety drills, said Kyle. “If you watch them, you can see they clearly know exactly what to do.”

It was only after they had chosen the name for their artillery group that Kyle and Scoggins discovered both men had ancestors who had served in the original Clanton’s Battery.

“That means a lot to us. People ask what’s the cost, but we don’t charge for what we do.

Donations are welcome, of course, and we put that back into the artillery group. And we are always looking for new members,” Kyle said.

And they don’t have to be male, either.

“Yes, we have a couple of women members. If they don’t mind wearing the uniforms, they can join right in with us.”

Bann and Betty Royal of Slapout were also dressed for the occasion, but in civilian attire c. 1861.

Mrs. Royal looked every inch the proper Civil War-era matron in her two-piece black and white plaid dress, cameo at her throat and starched petticoats and hoop beneath her full skirt, her outfit completed with a large hat decorated with ribbons and netting, black gloves and a black reticule, or purse.

She admitted that it takes some practice to get accustomed to the fashions worn more than 150 years ago.

“With these skirts, you have to be sure and lift up the skirt just slightly or you can find yourself tripping over that front hem. I learned the hard way,” she said with a laugh.

The Royals travel in their RV all over the southeast for similar events, said Bann Royal.

“We go to re-enactments in Selma and Tallassee and we’ve been to Richmond, Yorktown, Jamestown . . . we thoroughly enjoy it,” he said. “And it’s been just a beautiful day here at Dry Creek.”