Smoke was billowing from a burned-out building to the side, evidence of a recently discharged explosive.
The first building we approached was the Mayfield and Nichols Dry Goods Store. An historical re-enactor playing the store manager invited us inside and said the shelves were bare because a Confederate army led by Gen. John Hunt Morgan raided the store the day before.
Thousands of troops had taken all the food and supplies they could find, burning a number of buildings along the way.
As we talked with her, about 18 other visitors had entered. A young man suddenly appeared outside the store’s windows and shouted the rebels were coming and we were in danger. Almost immediately, some of the store’s windows became 3-D video screens and gave us a view of troops marching across a nearby bridge and toward the building. Rebels troops quickly surrounded the store.
Then the impossible happened. The windows and walls turned into screens, and the troops appeared to be in the room with us, tearing food, clothing and shoes from the store shelves. It was a shocking experience, but we remembered a warning as we entered the exhibit about loud noise and images of war that might not be appropriate for young children. We seemed more startled than the kids in the room.
We had a few minutes to recover from the shock before we moved to a large room in the Porter family home.
We either could sit or stand, facing a hastily erected defense barrier of logs and assorted junk. This was to be our defense when the rebels attacked. About 30 watched a multimedia presentation of the battle interspersed with comments from the people who had been involved.
On one side of the room, 3-D holographs of people brought us messages about the status of the attack and what was about to happen.
On the large screen in front, we could see the attackers and various aspects of the battle.
The screen occasionally would disappear, and we would see a mannequin of Gen. Morgan urging his men toward battle and later telling us about the retreat.
The seamless combination of presentation techniques made our visit a unique experience. Given the Smithsonian’s involvement, we suspect these dramatic ways of delivering a presentation might be used in other museums connected to them.
The day we visited, several other events took place as part of the Civil War Journey. Visitors could help the camp laundress deal with the soldiers’ dirty clothes. A large kettle of water was heating up nearby as the laundress gave lessons about the process.
In another area, guests older than 14 could learn to load and fire either a Springfield or Enfield rifle.
In the end, the exhibit offered a carefully planned immersion into an adventurous piece of history.