Alabama: Kickoff for “Civil War Christmas”

By Kelly Kazek,

ATHENS, Alabama – A little more than 150 years ago, Athens was embroiled in a pivotal battle whose outcome would decide if the Civil War would continue to be fought as a gentleman’s war, or should winner take all – including the property and dignity of those who lost?

Until the Sack of Athens on May 2, 1862, the war had largely been fought with an unwritten rule that the losers in battle should not be harmed and the residents and property in cities and towns should be treated respectfully.

But the actions of Union troops when they occupied Athens would change the direction of the war. Property was damaged and homes looted after they were taken from their owners for use by federal troops.

The incidents led to the court-martial of Gen. John B. Turchin, but a timely promotion from Lincoln allowed him to keep his post.

The Donnell House, one of the homes occupied that fateful day, still stands on the property it occupied that day.

The Donnell House in Athens will be decked out for Christmas Thursday for the kickoff to Festival of Trees: A Civil War Christmas. (Contributed by

“It was 150 years ago this year that the Sack of Athens took place,” said Jacque Reeves, curator of the Donnell House. “The Union troops came in and took what they wanted.”

During this year’s sesquicentennial of the Civil War, board members of the historicDonnell House planned its annual Festival of Trees to commemorate the war and how the Sack of Athens changed its course.

The home, built by the Rev. Robert Donnell and named Pleasant Hill, is now surrounded by classroom buildings on the campus of Athens Middle School on Clinton Street. The theme for this year’s fundraiser is “A Civil War Christmas.” Decorations throughout the plantation home will reflect Christmas customs of that era, as well as the events that took place within the family.

A Candlelight Preview Party will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday and will feature foods such as Robert E. Lee Cake, Yankee and Confederate Cannonballs, and fried pies, among other selections.

“The food will be authentic to that time,” Reeves said.

In addition, men dressed in Union and Confederate uniforms will greet guests.

The cost to attend is $20. Reservations may be made by contacting Jacque Reeves at 256-536-5737.

Visitors can tour the home and the adjacent log cabin – which have been decorated by business owners, professional decorators, individuals and groups— for a cost of $8 for adults, and $6 for children 12 and under. The home, as well as the primitive log cabin, will be open for tours from 5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 29 and 30 and from 1 to 5 p.m. Dec. 1, 2.

Decorations will pay tribute to both sides of the conflict, and a special exhibit of never-before-seen artifacts of the Donnell family will be on display for the first time. Union forces camped on the grounds of this home, took many of the family belongings, and confiscated the Donnell cotton, in retaliation for J.W.S. Donnell’s contributions to the Confederate Army. There was a warrant for his arrest, as well as his son, Major Robert Donnell.

For more information, contact Tiffany Seibert at

Reeves shared the recipe for Confederate Cannonballs, a handmade candy that will be served at Thursday’s event.

Confederate Cannonballs

By Jacque Reeves


Two sticks of margarine, softened

1 can Eagle Brand condensed milk

2 pounds powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Large package of coconut

Two cups chopped pecans

Mix ingredients and refrigerate overnight. Roll chilled mix into 1-inch balls, place on wax paper and freeze.

Melt 24 ounces of milk chocolate chips and a slab of paraffin wax in a double boiler. Dip frozen balls into the mixture and let set.


South Carolina: Southern Spirit Alive and Well

Aiken, S.C. — Some Southerners don’t claim or even want to think about their early 19th or 20th century past. But some take it by the reins and ride straight ahead.

John Osteen is a man who sparks with the blaze of a true Southerner. And for more than 30 years, around Thanksgiving, people have been able come out to his Couchton backyard of Southern past and see that spirit flicker through.

The log cabin, smoke house, school house and Confederate museum are some of the places that will be on display Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

It’s been open since 1976 – the nation’s bicentennial year, Osteen likes to note. The log cabin was the first site placed.

“The first stone I ever laid was over there,” he said, pointing to the stone fire place. The cabin has a tin roof, replaced after the building’s 4,440-wood-shingle roof went bad years ago.

John Osteen's Confederate museum contains artifacts and documents from various wars and will be open this weekend. Osteen has been hosting his open house for over 30 years. Aiken Standard Staff Photo by Stephanie Turner

In the cabin, a kitchen and sleeping loft are tucked up above. An early 20th century calendar hangs on the wall, complete with a missing picture – courtesy of a hungry goat. Plates and cups are scattered around among the other kitchen items.

The cast-iron pans hanging from the wall are the only items from his home in Pinewood, where he was before he moved to Aiken in 1958.

Although all the buildings took Osteen’s sweat and labor, the smokehouse was the only building not built from scratch. More than 130 years old, he bought it from a man in Clarendon County and reconstructed it. In it this weekend, meat will hang over a fire using tools now hanging on the walls.

The school house might not remind today’s children of their own schools, but it does hold special spot on the yard. It’s a hat-tip to his mother: The school house is a replica of where she attended school – Reid Schoolhouse in Sumter County.

To hold true to the illusion, he captured what she might have seen, from the items on teacher’s desk, the written-up chalk board with the teacher’s name on it, the long benches and the old books along the back wall shelves.

“She liked it,” he said with a long breath, remembering when his mother saw the house before she died.

His Confederate museum, once an old dog kennel, contains personal and collected memorabilia. From his awards and old family portraits, to the weapons and pieces of exploded metal. The museum reveals glimpses into wars such World Wars I and II and, of course, gives more insight into Southern history.

“I’m the only man who knows where Camp Butler truly was,” he said.

Camp Butler, located about two miles from Osteen’s Wagener Road home, was a gathering spot for several different regiments about to go off to North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. A historical marker was placed there last weekend, Osteen said.

Osteen’s property also includes a chicken coop and an outdoor privy.

“I miss my animals more than anything else,” Osteen said, shortly after looking through the scrapbook he’s kept up of pictures and newspaper clippings.

He once had horses, guineas, geese, beagles and mules traipsing around. That’s one thing the kids really loved, Osteen said.

Keeping up the Southern atmosphere, he will have cotton out by the “stillard” – or steelyard, as Northerners put it. He also has a sugar cane mill – because that’s how real syrup is made, he said, smiling and laughing.

While the walking museum holds so many personal touches, Osteen loves opening it up to the public.

“I get so much pleasure out of it. It’s my holiday gift to the people,” he said.

Osteen’s wife Essie, who passed away in September 2009, used to help out with the tour, providing her own special treats to visitors. Now Osteen’s girlfriend of more than a year assists him and will be there with some of his family members this weekend.

Osteen has four sons: John, David, Ronald and Richard.

“We hadn’t had a girl in the Osteen bloodline in (more than 50) years, and now I have four granddaughters,” he said.

He also has a step-granddaughter.

Osteen had memory problems when he was younger but now can recall facts and recite poems as if he just read them. While he has an ailment that necessitates he use a power chair, he can still walk around the yard when necessary.

I still get around, he said. “No man has ever worked harder, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

A few days before he turned 85, Osteen received the Compatriot of the Month award at The Battle of Aiken, an event he has attended since its start.

The property is at 3184 Wagener Road., across from Couchton Baptist Church; call Osteen at 507-2268 for more information.

Stephanie Turner is a graduate of Valdosta State University. — Aiken Standard


Tennessee: Civil War Ball Upcoming

Clarksville, TN – The Friends of Fort Defiance would like to invite you to a Civil War Ball in support of the Fort Defiance Interpretive and Visitors Center, a beautiful facility located on the site of Fort Defiance’s earth works in Clarksville.

It was opened in April of 2011. If you have not had the opportunity to visit there as yet, we encourage you to do so. It is truly an impressive facility.

The Civil War Ball will be held on January 13th starting at 6 p.m.

Tickets are $35.00 a person. Period Dress or evening clothes are required.

The Civil War Ball will be held at the Madison Street United Methodist Church located at 319 Madison Street, Clarksville, Tennessee.

This event is presented by The Friends of Fort Defiance and The Clarksville Montgomery County Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee.

For more information, or to make reservations


Virginia: New Land of “Lincoln”

Steven Spielberg’s high-profile “Lincoln” has cast the spotlight on Virginia as a shooting location. But while many films have shot in the Old Dominion over the years, few have integrated the state’s historic locations so effectively into their story, and perhaps none has taken such clear advantage of the visual and emotional authenticity that can be gained by filming in the very locations where the story is set.

Virginia happens to be where more than half the battles of the American Civil War were fought, and from 1861 to 1865 the state capital, Richmond, also served as the capital of the Confederate States of America.

Virginia's Capitol in Richmond, designed by Thomas Jefferson, has played historic structures in many films, including 'Lincoln.'

“It’s like we were living history,” says Daniel Lupe, exec producer of the DreamWorks pic. “(Confederate President) Jefferson Davis sat in a chair where we shot in Richmond. When we shot in Petersburg, we were based in the old railhead in where the Union soldiers were based.”

All this was especially beneficial to the film’s President Lincoln, played by Daniel Day-Lewis, who is famous for staying in character between takes.

“Daniel never really had to leave the Civil War in his mind,” says Rick Carter, the film’s production designer, or do “weird shots against green screen.”

But, as valuable those Civil War backgrounds were, Spielberg never would’ve shot “Lincoln” in Virginia if the price wasn’t right.

“In addition to being the director, he was also operating very much as a studio executive,” says Kathleen Kennedy, the film’s producer, and “he did not want to spend a huge amount of money,” That’s because of the bottom-line reality that, as a historical film dealing with complex emotional and political issues, “Lincoln” is far from a surefire hit in the manner of, say, an “Indiana Jones” pic.

Earlier incarnations of the script spanned the entirety of Lincoln’s presidency, with numerous major battle sequences, pushing the budget north of $100 million. Over the years, Spielberg narrowed the scope of the film so it covered just the last four months of Lincoln’s life, and he was determined to get the working budget down into the mid-$50 million range.

On the surface, Virginia doesn’t seem like the ideal place to pull that off. It has a 15%-20% tax credit with a $2.5 million cap (it goes up to $5 million next year), which is paltry compared to incentives offered by many other top U.S. production destinations, including Massachusetts, another top contender to land the shoot, which has a 25% tax credit with no cap.

“Lincoln” ended up getting the entirety of Virginia’s annual allotment for the tax credit, $2.5 million, as well as a $1 million grant from the Governor’s Motion Picture Opportunity Fund. But what really sealed the deal were the extra perks, including free access to the interiors and exteriors, a wealth of historic state buildings in Richmond’s Capitol Square, which boasts a 180-degree vista of period-correct structures.

“When we looked in Massachusetts and Georgia, we found some of the (suitable historic locations), but not all of them,” Lupi says. “Virginia gave us locations for free, plus support from police and government workers, and help with taking out street signs and the electrical work.”

Designed by Thomas Jefferson, the Capitol building in Richmond was the Capitol of the Confederacy during the Civil War. With some set dressing and minimal CGI, it was able to stand in for the White House in Washington, D.C., as it had in 2000’s “The Contender.”

Inside, the House of Delegates chamber was used to portray the U.S. House of Representatives, as it had in the 1993 comedy “Dave.” To top it off, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell allowed the production to shoot in the bottom floor of the adjacent Governor’s Mansion, while he lived upstairs.

“The governor and the legislature basically opened it all up for us to use as a backlot,” says Carter. “We were able to shoot a third of the movie there,” which drastically reduced construction and transportation costs.

The legislature was out of session during the film’s October-December 2011 shoot, but the Capitol building was still the functioning seat of state government, as well as an active tourist destination.

“We had to closely coordinate with some of the tours and school groups to be able to allow them access to the Capitol, sometimes even in between takes,” says Andrew Edmunds, interim director of the Virginia Film Office, who first scouted locations for “Lincoln” with Carter back in 2003.

Shooting in the Old Towne section of nearby Petersburg, site of the Civil War’s climactic Siege of Petersburg, the filmmakers were allowed to cover the streets in dirt and change the signage on the businesses. They shot the battle sequences and exteriors at the River Queen steamboat (integral to several scenes in the film) in the town of State Farm, where they were able to take advantage of structures built for HBO’s “John Adams” miniseries. Interiors of the River Queen and the second floor of the White House were constructed in a warehouse in Mechanicsville.

The production was also able to take advantage of the Civil War reenactment clubs in the state, but more for researching tents and cannons than using their members as extras.

“At that time in the war, there were a lot of young soldiers, and they were somewhat malnourished,” Lupi explains, “and a lot of the reenactors tend to be a little bit like me — older and getting gray.”