Historic markers to greet Civil War buffs in Alabama

History buffs who come to Selma next April will be treated to something special -- interactive history markers allowing them to use their cellular phones to learn more about one of the final battles of the Civil War.

One of the markers was unveiled Wednesday morning near the site of the Battle of Selma, and James Hammonds, a leader of The April 1865 Society, was beaming as he explained how it and more than a dozen others like it will work.

"This is better than sliced bread, as they say," Hammonds said. "Next year will be the biggest tourism season ever for Selma, considering what is about to happen."

He referred to the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Selma on April 2, 1865, as well as the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery march in March 1965. The annual re-enactment of the battle will be held April 23-27 next year.

National leaders, including President Barack Obama, are expected to be invited to attend the 50th anniversary celebration of the historic march that began March 21, 1965. The event will be followed a month later by the annual Battle of Selma re-enactment.

"We're planning to merge the march with the battle," said Selma Mayor George Evans, who helped Hammonds remove a large sheet that covered the marker erected only a few yards from where the annual battle re-enactment is held each year. "Next year will be a year to remember for our city."

Hammonds said more than three years of planning, research and design went into the making of the first marker, which includes details about the battle on one side and a large map of the battle site on the other side.

"These markers are perhaps the most interactive and technically advanced in the state," Hammonds said. "We are proud to be able to share more history of our city."

Hammonds said each of the markers will cost about $3,600, adding that enough money has been raised by his April 1865 Society to construct at least nine more. He said it is hoped that 15 markers will be created.

Visitors with cell phones will be able to scan and download information from each historic marker, Hammonds said. He said the first few will produce still photographs while those that follow could be able to show via cell phones videos taken from the annual Battle of Selma re-enactment.

Hammonds indicated one of the markers might be placed at Old Cahawba, the site of Alabama's first Capitol building and the location of a historic meeting between Union Gen. James Wilson and Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest.

When Wilson led his large cavalry unit into Selma, it was more of a punitive than strategic raid since the Civil War was about to end within a few days with Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox.

Selma was a target because it was one of only two munition centers for the Confederacy, churning out rifles, bayonets, belt buckles and other items for Rebel soldiers. Richmond was the Confederacy's other ammunition site.

Much of Selma's downtown area was torched by Wilson's raiders, including the Episcopal church. Many women hid jewelry in their undergarments to keep the Yankees from stealing their necklaces, bracelets and rings.