“Darkest Before the Light,” a rare opportunity to view Fort Massachusetts by candlelight, was staged by the Gulf Islands National Seashore Park on Friday, Oct. 13.
Ship Island Excursions Ferry traveled to the Ship Island as park interpreters narrated tales that included the Railroad Network of Freedom and the gunship of USS Fort Massachusetts back in 1861. The sun set as the ferry docked at the pier and Ship Island was in complete darkness except for the flickering glow of candlelight from Fort Massachusetts.
The program had two dozen performers dressed in period Civil War costumes, some carrying rifles others lanterns. The reenactment brought to life the history of Fort Massachusetts with notable words from several key historical soldiers and thoughts from prisoners of war. The stories shared the struggles and the bravery of the 38th Mississippi Infantry, 7 Stars Artillery, and CSMC Company D. Educational and entertaining, visitors were introduced to some of the harsh realities of being on the island during the Civil War before the comfort of electricity, cell phones, and bug repellant.
“‘Darkest Before the Light’ took three months of preparation,” said John Bernstiel, Supervisory Park Ranger Gulf Islands National Seashore. “We have a small staff, so it was important to have outside help for a program like this. The support from staff in other departments and over in Florida was so valuable. We had about 25 volunteers who came dressed for the reenactment and the Ship Island Excursions staff, without all of them the evening could not have happened. So, a huge thanks to everyone for the support.”
The program had a nice turnout with the ferry being nearly full. The ship remained docked and the staff was extremely helpful. The visitors were separated into four small groups and guided through the candle-lit fort. There were stations with reenactments as visitors would stop as a group to listen to the soldiers.
“Darkest Before the Light” was a special opportunity to experience the fort at night, look up in the sky, see the stars over the island, and learn a little about U.S. history. Fort Massachusetts was the location for the staging of the important Battle of New Orleans, as well as the first African-American soldiers in combat.
Gulf Islands National Seashore Park Service staff, interns, volunteers, along with Ship Island Excursions all contributed to putting on the special event that was open to the public.
Will there be a follow-up event in the future? Currently, nothing is planned but there has been a request to have “Darkest Before the Light” annually. Time will tell.