by ECW Correspondent Katherine Duffek
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see and hear cannon and musket fire in real life instead of just in the movies? Well, at Vicksburg National Military Park, visitors can go to the park’s black powder program and watch historians dress up as Civil War soldiers and fire off muskets and cannons.
Years ago, the black powder program had been discontinued, but Scott Babinowich, the chief of interpretation at Vicksburg, was determined to bring the program back.
“A black powder program is a unique tool that certain parks can use to help interpret war,” said Babinowich. “It helps visitors to begin to understand what life might have been like for a soldier—what they experienced, and most importantly, what they might have felt when in combat.”
In order to have the program, each park, due to safety reasons, must have at least one historian designated as a historic weapons Supervisor. It took Babinowich a year to make sure everyone was properly trained and that there was at least one historic weapons supervisor at the park, but it was worth it to him.
The black powder program offers both a cannon demonstration and a rifle demonstration during the summer. The cannon experience lasts about 20 minutes and is offered twice a day on weekends. The rifle experience is about 15 minutes long and is offered throughout the week.
Considering there are actual rifles and cannons used in these experiences, the National Park Service is required to make sure all demonstrations are held to the highest safety standards. Each living historian that participates in the different experiences must pass through a training process, including exams on both muskets and the cannon, Babinowich said.
“The crew drills frequently, practicing to ensure that they are staying proficient and safe,” he aded. “At all times, one of the Historic Weapons Supervisors is present to help the crew. Most of our crew are local volunteers from the area who have a passion for history, the park, and connecting with visitors.”
All of the in-park experiences are free of charge, but, according to Babinowich, “the entrance fee [into the battlefield] is $20 per car for 7 days.”
Babinowich said the public has been loving the return of Vicksburg’s black powder program so far. “During our first programs of this summer, our parking lot was full of eager visitors,” he said, “mainly local community residents helping us kick off another successful year.”
People love watching movies with cannons and guns and rifles, so why not go and experience all of that in real life? The Black Powder program at Vicksburg National Battlefield can give you an experience that no other battlefield regularly can.
(Click here to see a firing demonstration from Vicksburg National Military Park, filmed during our Facebook LIVE event with the American Battlefield Trust in May 2018. Here’s a full segment on the black powder program.)