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Civil War buffs poised for military ball, battle re-enactments this weekend

The middle of February used to be a hole in the South Carolina festival calendar, reserved for Valentine’s Day and void of reasons to venture outdoors.

In recent years, however, Columbia officials and Civil War buffs came up with an unusual way to plug that hole, a commemoration of the city’s most traumatic moments.

“Columbia’s Longest Days: February 1865” harkens back to the burning of the city the night after Union Gen. William T. Sherman’s troops rolled in.

Despite the tragic historical backdrop and the unwieldy name, the event sponsored by the Greater Columbia Civil War Alliance keeps growing. This year, the alliance expanded by adding a ball and bazaar and connecting with a battle re-enactment event that used to be held in May.

The Military Ball and Grand Bazaar, where participants are asked to wear formal attire or period costumes, is tonight at the State Museum.

The battle re-enactment Saturday and Sunday in Sandy Run should draw a larger, more family-oriented crowd. Formally called the Battle For Columbia, it’s not based on any one historical battle. The out-numbered, ill-equipped Confederates mostly retreated around Columbia in mid-February 1865.

The living history battle will feature general aspects of Civil War battles. The Union forces will lay siege to a Confederate fort, leading to cavalry and artillery engagements. The Union soldiers will suffer huge losses on the second day as they successfully take the fort and raise the Stars and Stripes in victory.

Military buffs will appreciate the tactics, and kids fascinated by loud noises will revel in the explosions. If you don’t fit in either category, you might enjoy walking through the sutlers (army suppliers) village, where visitors can learn how people lived in the 1860s.

The first Battle For Columbia event was staged in May 2005. This year, organizers opted to combine with the “Columbia’s Longest Days” commemoration to give both events more attention.

“Columbia’s Longest Days” features more intimate re-enactments of the firing on the State House from the banks of the Congaree River and the surrender of the city at the intersection of River Drive and Beaufort Street.

In addition, bus tours following portions of Sherman’s route will leave from the State Museum parking lot.

Events Saturday at the S.C. Confederate Relic Room & Military Museum will include symposiums and displays and sales of relics.

Reach Holleman at (803) 771-8366.

‘LONGEST DAYS’

Events commemorating the closing days of the Civil War

TONIGHT

Military Ball and Grand Bazaar: 8-11 p.m., Congaree Room at the State Museum, 301 Gervais St.; $10 per person, $15 per couple

SATURDAY

Firing on the State House: 8:45 a.m., Gervais Street Bridge, West Columbia side; free

Sherman’s March bus tour: 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., from the State Museum; $15 per person

Surrender of Columbia: 10 a.m., River Drive at Beaufort Street; free

Crafts, relic vendors, museum tours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m., State Museum; free

BATTLE FOR COLUMBIA

Re-enactments: 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday in Sandy Run (take exit 125 off I-26 and follow signs); $10 adults, $5 students, free for kids 5 and younger. See www.battleforcolumbia.com for more details.

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