Texas Civil War Museum
Civil War Comes to Jefferson Texas
A dozen Confederate dismounted cavalry walk in a loose picket line through the tall grass outside of Jefferson, Texas. Ahead, Union infantry spread out into a battle line as federal artillery troops to the rear load their cannon. The rebels face overwhelming fire but they have to slow the northern troops until their own infantry can arrive. They drop to one knee and take aim on the Federal troops as their commander bawls commands. Suddenly Union cavalry on horseback charges the Confederate picket line from behind. Union to the front, charging cavalry from behind - they're trapped. The rebel flagman waves his unit flag in defiance as the dismounted cavalry soldiers fire a volley into the union infantry. The Union cavalry gallops past, firing pistols and brandishing swords. The cannon fires a salvo and an explosion erupts next to the Confederates. The violent explosion shakes the ground, dirt fills the air and in the distance the Confederates hear . . . a car alarm.
A car alarm?
The civil war reenactment held in Jefferson Texas every May provides spectators with an incredible in-person representation of what a battle might have been like. The scenario I described above was the beginning of one such battle, involving more than 400 reenactors. I was one of those reenactors, waving the flag for 13th Texas Cavalry in the face of the Union ambush. In that moment, when the ground exploded next to us, I experienced a momentary touch of the fear and anxiety every Civil War soldier must have experienced as they marched into battle. The explosions shook the ground so violently that car alarms went off from the parking area several hundred feet away. It was a powerful moment in an exciting reenactment, a wonderful experience for the hundreds of spectators watching along the edge of the battlefield.
I have taken part in two reenactments in Jefferson. But my first visit to Jefferson was as a spectator. I wrote a trip report following that first trip to Jefferson and that report follows . . .
While I was surfing around the Internet, I discovered that Civil War Living History, a Civil War reenactment, would be taking place in Jefferson, Texas in May. Never one to pass up the opportunity to watch a battle, I immediately planned to go and headed off to East Texas for an overnight trip.
About Jefferson, Texas
In the 1800s Jefferson was a thriving port town on the Big Cypress Bayou, and was described as the Riverport to the Southwest. In 1873, the US Army Corps of Engineers made changes in the Mississippi River that lowered water levels in the bayou to the point where reduced shipping to the town was possible. That, coupled with the expansion of the railroads in East Texas, ended Jeffersons reign as a major shipping community. The city went into a great decline, but more recent years have seen a resurgence as a bed and breakfast community with tourist appeal for families, antique hunters and people just wanting to get away from a big city atmosphere. As the Marion County Chamber of Commerce describes it:
Today, Jefferson is a quaint small town featuring tour attractions reminiscent of its heyday. Its streets are lined with antique and gift shops stocked with unique treasures. Horse-drawn carriages and trolleys tour along the original brick streets. Just one block away from downtown are riverboat tours of Big Cypress Bayou, the same waterway once traveled by stern-wheelers. Evenings in town offer live theater productions, as well as a variety of dining choices. Retiring for the night in Jefferson offers the opportunity to experience any of the over 60 Bed and Breakfast establishments, including the Excelsior Hotel.
Jefferson does a terrific job of appealing to tourists with local lakes, tours and other fun activities, and a long list of fun events scheduled throughout the year.
The event that appealed to us, of course, was Civil War Living History, a three day celebration of the blue and gray (mostly gray, this IS Texas) and featuring a Civil War reenactment called the Battle of Port Jefferson. According to the folks I talked with, this event has gone on for more than ten years, and based on the crowd I saw, I imagine theyll be doing it for many more years to come.
Visit the website for Jefferson, Texas to learn more about the family vacation opportunities in this community.
About Civil War Living History
Jeffersons Civil War Living History is different than other events Ive attended, like Liendo and McKinney. Jefferson doesnt consolidate all the activities in one place; instead, there are various events in different places in town and the reenactment is held a few miles outside of town. For an outsider, this got to be pretty confusing. You can see the schedule for Saturday's events below to get a sense of what I'm talking about.
|Sutlers Open||Downtown Jefferson|
|8:00 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.||Registration of Reenactors, Civilians & Horses||Chamber of Commerce 101 N. Polk|
|8:30 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.||Reenactors’ Shuttles are available||Town to Battlefield|
|9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.||Parade line-up||Lions Park, Jefferson|
|10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.||Parade / Town Skirmish||Jefferson|
|11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.||Pilgrimage: Tour of Homes||Jefferson / Excelsior|
|4:00 p.m.||Battle||Tuscumbia Ranch|
|5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.||Encampments Open to Public||Battlefield & Downtown Jefferson<|
|6:00 p.m.||Reenactor / Civilian Dinner||Battlefield|
|8:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.||Southern Heritage Grand Ball
Period Attire Required - 1850 Historical
|CVA Building, Jefferson|
|8:00 p.m.||Pilgrimage: Diamond Bessie Murder Trial||Jefferson / Excelsior|
This was much more confusing to us than was an event like Liendo, where you pay an admission fee, enter one location and the events are all listed out and scheduled within that one spot.
Further, outside of a few sutler tents on the edge of town and one stand selling sodas at the reenactment site, there wasnt a concession area or ongoing displays that I saw. I was hoping to find people selling hot dogs or burgers or whatever at the reenactment, but there was nothing. I finally saw someone with some t-shirts, but a few decent souvenir stands at the reenactment site probably would have been pretty popular as well. I think Jefferson is missing the boat on this one youd think they could make some more money from the event by selling space to dealers who sell things at these types of activities, like they do in Liendo. Doing this would also consolidate the events into one spot, where a family could go and spend the day doing and watching a bunch of things.
The flip side of that is youll find yourself wandering around the town more at Jefferson than you would at Liendo, which may be their intention in the first place. And thats fine too Jefferson is a really nice community for window-shopping and walking about. I am not someone who particularly likes the bed and breakfast scene, but I can see why people would enjoy a weekend in Jefferson to just relax. Ill talk about a few of the places we discovered in Jefferson further along in this trip report to give you some ideas about what we found.
Back to the event. As I said, you dont have a single spot to go and enjoy a series of presentations, displays, etc. so you need to get there early and get the schedule to find out what is going on. They have things like a Saturday night dance, Sunday morning church service, raising the flag, a reenactment of the Diamond Bessie murder trial and a tour of homes I was a bit disappointed that there didn't seem to be as many different activities to experience in Jefferson as there was at Liendo or even McKinney.
BUT . . . the big event, the Battle of Port Jefferson, made up for the lack of focused activities elsewhere. It was terrific!
First the way the battlefield is set up, spectators are very close to the action, much closer than at Liendo or McKinney. At times I literally had to cover my lens to protect it from the dirt thrown up by horses that were galloping past me thats how close we were. I really felt like we were part of the battle.
Second standing ovation for the pyrotechnics! When the first cannon shot exploded and set off every car alarm in the parking lot, I knew it was going to be good. They did an awesome job of setting up charges to simulate the landing and detonation of cannon shells and they had LOTS of them. The ground shook with the explosions, they were so powerful. The only downside was that they kicked up a lot of dirt into the air, which made it tough to keep your lens protected. That was a small sacrifice though; the explosions and the close proximity to the battle were fantastic.
They had a great turnout from the reenactors as well. I think there were more participants at Liendo, but Jefferson still had a large number of soldiers and cannon on each side. Now that weve been to three of these reenactments, were starting to recognize some of the soldiers, even though they keep switching uniforms. The wife of one reenactor was explaining that her husband would suit up as both a Union and a Confederate well, I think thats what she meant when she quipped, he swings both ways. Hope so!
Third The crowd was not as packed in as at Liendo or McKinney. People stretched out the length of the battlefield, so everyone was able to sit close to the action.
Fourth Like at Liendo and McKinney, everyone at Jefferson was extremely friendly and fun to talk to. Its just nice to go chat with decent, regular people. Props to the people of Jefferson for hosting the event as they do.
We watched the Battle of Port Jefferson both days. It lasted for a good hour each time and the battles were well worth the trip. Parking was easy (and free) and admission was cheap. All in all it was a terrific weekend, and well be back next year!
Family Travel Tips at Jefferson, Texas
#1 - Never go to any reenactment without bringing chairs or a blanket to sit on. We failed to do this and ended up with butts full of stickers because we sat on the ground. Bring chairs, bring a blanket, bring sunscreen and an umbrella and at Jefferson, bring your own food. Or go to one of the restaurants Ill discuss below before the battle these places were excellent.
#2 - Attend the reenactment battle each day and not just once. They dont do it the same way twice!
#3 Be sure to talk with the reenactors before and after the battle. These people spend a lot of time and money putting together the uniforms, traveling to reenactments, etc. Theyre passionate about what they do and they enjoy talking about it. Just be sure to use the word uniform and not costume they consider what they do as recreating history and they definitely dont like the word costume.
#4 - Visit the Jefferson General Store. You will find many places to shop in Jefferson, but one place you have to visit is the General Store at 113 E. Austin Street. The place is jammed to the rafters with toys, gifts, collectibles, foods and candies and everything else you can imagine. The store harkens back to the nostalgic old general store of the 1800s. You'll find a working soda fountain and a wide assortment of retro items . . . imagine finding toys like paddle balls, bird whistles, sock monkeys - even old fashioned whoopee cushions and a rubber chicken. If you are in the 40+ age group, you will find yourself saying "I remember THAT toy" or "I used to play with those!" over and over as you walk through the jammed aisles. Same with the candy - you will find cherry sours, lollipops, jaw breakers, candy necklaces, pixie sticks, even those politically incorrect candy cigarettes . . . candies that you haven't seen in 30 years.
The merchandise is heavy in Texas collectibles and a big selection of jams, jellies and barbecue sauces and seasonings. There are tons of T-shirts and hats, books, signs, and more. You can easily spend an hour or two just looking at all the different types of gifts and foods they have on sale.
Restaurants in Jefferson, Texas
Joseph's Riverport Barbecue - 201 N. Polk St., Jefferson, TX 75657, 903-665-2341
When we go to another town we always try to find local restaurants - I can eat at Chiles or Olive Garden at home, so there is no reason for me to go to those places when I'm on vacation in another city. I want to find a local restaurant to enjoy something different. In spite of that, I'm not particularly adventurous when it comes to dining out or trying different foods, so when I have a chance to try out a local place that has something I trust, like barbecue, I'm all for it.
And so we went to Joseph's Riverport Barbecue in the heart of downtown Jefferson. Riverport BBQ looks like your typical barbecue place with wood tables and a rustic decor. You'll find a heavy emphasis of railroad signs and pictures decorating the place, so train buffs will have yet another reason to enjoy their visit.
I was pretty hungry after the reenactment so I ordered the two meat platter, opting for brisket and sausage. Sherri was pretty hungry herself so she went for the chopped beef sandwich. Riverport not only has the full range of barbecue meats - they also sell catfish and burgers.
The food came out quickly and we were very happy with our orders. The brisket was terrific - very tender and not chewy at all - and the sausage was extremely good. Sherri loved her sandwich; I had a bite of it myself and I thought it had an excellent flavor. The prices were in the $6 - $12 range for most items, which was comparable to what we typically spend for comparable meals in Dallas / Fort Worth. However, the portions at the Riverport were more generous than what you normally get in DFW, so we thought the meals offered excellent value as well as quality. The employees were very nice as well - we chatted with the owner for awhile, who gave us a verbal history of Jefferson while we dined.
We've got some great barbecue places in Dallas / Fort Worth so I have pretty high expectations when I go some place for brisket. Joseph's Riverport Barbecue met and exceeded those expectations. If this place was close to my house, I guarantee we'd be going there regularly.
Kitts Kitt's Kornbread Sandwich and Pie Bar- 125 N. Polk St., Jefferson, TX 75657, 903-665-0505 - Monday - Friday, 11:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.; closed Wednesdays - Saturday, 11:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.; Sunday, 12 noon - 3:00 p.m.
Once we saw the words "Kornbread Sandwich" on the sign for Kitt's, we knew we had to try this restaurant. I've eaten at countless places from coast to coast, and I have never seen cornbread sandwiches on a menu.
On Saturday when we stopped by, Kitt's was closed - take that as a tip, to pay attention to their hours of operation and get there well before the scheduled closing time. Fortunately for us, it worked out fine because we ended up going to Riverport BBQ that day and returning to Kitt's on Sunday.
The interior of Kitt's has a comfortable diner feel, although there are some nicer, more upscale touches to the decor. We were waited on by a lovely young lady who took great care of us as well. We ordered the combo of the turkey and ham sandwich, the Texas chile and the chicken and dumplings. (Check out their website to see their full menu.)
Man, the sandwich was terrific. Normal cornbread tends to be somewhat crumbly and has a sweet flavor, which wouldn't be suited to sandwiches. Kitt's cornbread has replaced the sweetness with a buttery flavor and a less crumbly texture, and it makes for fantastic sandwiches. The Chile and the chicken and dumplings were great, with a real home made flavor.
Along with the sandwiches, Kitt's has an excellent assortment of pies for dessert. The selection of pies includes buttermilk, coconut buttermilk, very berry, apple, pecan, chocolate pecan, key lime, cherry, lemon layer meringue, chocolate meringue, double chocolate cream, banana cream, new york cheesecake, turtle cheesecake and sugar free cherry berry. We went for the sugar free cherry berry and lemon layer meringue. The pies were as good as the sandwiches - even the sugar free pie was terrific.
You can figure on spending $8 - $15 for your meal at Kitt's. The servings aren't huge so don't go when you're famished, or just order a second sandwich to take with you.
If you go to Jefferson, Kitt's Kornbread Sandwich and Pie Bar is an absolute must-visit restaurant. This is one place that serves a truly unique menu, and one that you will find unforgettable.
Baymont Inn #18093 - Longview, TX - 903/757-3663 - Jefferson is very much a bed and breakfast community, but we found there were few hotel rooms available in the immediate area. We decided to save some money and get a hotel room about 25 miles away at the Baymont Inn in Longview.
I'm going to make this write-up very short. Our first impression of the room was that it was extremely spacious and nice. As we settled in, however, we noticed that there appeared to be vomit smeared on one wall and the toilet did not flush very well. Then, that evening we had a mob of 20-something kids partying in our parking lot. We called the front desk at around 11:00 p.m. and were told they would take care of it - the girl at the front desk knew what I was talking about halfway into my comment, so it was clear the hotel knew there was a situation. The problems continued on and off for several hours - finally at 4 a.m. I called to complain again and things seemed to clear out around 4:30.
I don't hold the hotel responsible for what guests and visitors do there, but I do expect the hotel to resolve problems once they've been notified. This went on for five HOURS. We were completely dissatisfied by the hotel's response. We filled out customer surveys and received a very tepid, mediocre psuedo-apology that was obviously a form letter . . . it was even addressed to someone named Sue Heidenreich, who apparently was ANOTHER unhappy guest.
The hotel was a disaster, and based on this experience I will probably not stay at another Baymont Inn. In the past, we had several nights' worth of points built up with their rewards program but after the hotel chain went through a series of ownership changes those points seemed to have disappeared, so I have a bone to pick with them anyway. Then we gave them another chance and they responded with a nasty room and chaos in the parking lot all night long.
Just my opinion, but my recommendation is to avoid Baymont Inns.
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