DELTA — The skirmish had simmered for 15 minutes or so, figures in brown and gray half-glimpsed through the thick fog that shrouded Cheaha Mountain’s top.
The fog smelled of gunpowder but did nothing to mute musket pop or cannon thud. But then the wind shifted, carrying away the vapor.
The battlefield, revealed to gasping spectators: Confederates crouched behind rocks and trees, grasping rifles. Union soldiers bunched before and below them, one man in blue carrying an American flag. Civil War reenactors, all.
“They’re fighting the war,” said Jackson McDaniel. The 8-year-old from Calera hopped at the edge of the caution tape that separated the watchers from the reenactors, so excited he could hardly get the words out.
Dozens ringed that tape at the top of Cheaha State Park Saturday afternoon, catching the occasional muzzle flash through the fog that quickly returned, as the men — more than 30 of them, according to Pete Smith, the battle’s organizer — played at war.
Specifically, they sought to reenact on a far smaller scale the Battle of Lookout Mountain, also called the “Battle Above the Clouds” because the mountain on that November day in 1863 was similarly enshrouded.
“Wasn’t much of a battle,” Smith said later, after the reenactment, seated before his canvas tent. Once a truck driver but now disabled, Smith is a captain in Alabama’s division of reenactors.
During the actual struggle for the mountain that looks over Chattanooga, the outnumbered Confederate forces were routed. In Saturday’s battle on Cheaha, though, the confederates were victorious.
It was the first of two battles planned for the weekend, with a second set for Sunday at 2 p.m.
“Tomorrow will be the big show. It’ll be more accurate,” Smith said.
But on Saturday, when the men dressed as Union soldiers charged through the fog toward their foes, Randall Brown had to die.
“I do get dramatic,” Brown said later, upright. He’d been sprawled out on the forest floor moments before. A Confederate looter checked the size of his boots, Brown said, and was disappointed to find they wouldn’t fit.
He’d died yelling and kicking, he said, which isn’t unusual for him.
“I like to put on a show. That’s what it’s all about,” said Brown, who lives in Gadsden.
Men command death on the make-believe battlefield. Reenactors playing the part of commanders often tell their fellows when and where to fall, Brown said.
Other times, when another reenactor is “aiming straight at you,” he said, “you take a hit.”
Most of the men who played the part of soldiers Saturday belonged to chapters of the Sons of Confederate Veterans organization, and said reenacting was a way to honor their ancestors. That was true for Brown, who had family members on both sides of the Civil War.
For the children who watched, like McDaniel, the blank shots of muskets and cannons and the reenactors’ garb was great fun.
Not all those reenactors fought, though. Some came to dress and live, at least to an extent, like people from the period.
“It’s a fun hobby,” said Kyle Hutcherson, who wore a wide-brimmed hat, full beard and handmade frock coat. “You’re roughing it out here with like-minded people .... It’s cool.”
He and his wife, Emily, were among the reenactors camping on the mountain top.
Alex Latorre, a friend, decided to come with them after watching other Civil War reenactments.
“It’s almost like you’re walking into the past,” Latorre, in a long skirt and cloak, said. “I always wanted that.”