Weather adds realism to Civil War camp

July 28, 1997


Staff Writer

WILLIAMSPORT - This weekend's sweltering weather didn't overwhelm Civil War re-enactors camping in wool uniforms at the Cushwa Basin near the visitor center at the C&O Canal National Historical Park.

It brought them closer to the true soldier experience, said Barbara Benedict of Frederick, 35, one of three privates participating in the 6th Maryland Volunteer Infantry Regiment encampment in the parking lot at 205 W. Potomac St.

"The 6th Maryland were camped in this vicinity, quite possibly on this very spot from September to December 1862, We were responsible for protecting the aqueduct, the Potomac River and keeping the canal open," said her husband, Ron Benedict, 43.


The infantry guarded the Potomac River to prevent Confederates from destroying dams, which would have flooded the C&O canal.

Confederates targeted the canal because it was used to transport supplies through the area to Washington, D.C. and vice versa.

"Williamsport had its share of Confederate sympathizers. They had to contend with rebel raiders. There was always something going on. We had guard posts up (U.S. Highway)11 to Hagerstown," he said.

Philadelphia native William W. Moore of Company H was the only casualty Ron Benedict recalled.

"He was accidentally killed by a premature discharge from a musket, probably where the river crossing was or at camp."

Ron Benedict is compiling a history of the 1,000-soldier regiment. He said the group is enlisting new members.

The group of four re-enactors included Russell Alper, 42, of Rockville, Md., and Tim Koch, 29, of Silver Spring, Md., who also portrayed privates.

"I like re-enacting better than the real thing. You can quit when you want to and there is no live ammunition. But most people don't want to quit, because it's fun," said Alper.

Under the shade of a white cloth tent, Koch described a private's duties: cutting wood, collecting water, making fires, digging latrines, "anything to maintain life in a camp. As the low man on the totem pole, he had to do all the labor."

Koch wore a dark blue forage cap, a matching four-button sack coat and light blue wool trousers.

"People have a lot of different reasons. It's my way of showing respect for those who actually did this. Nobody can fully know what they had to go through, not only in battle, but in everyday life."

At about 10 a.m., the group cleaned up after eating a hot breakfast in metal tins. Smoke rose from the wood fire, a few feet from the canal.

They stored supplies in an officer's tent, a dog tent and an A-frame wedge tent.

Barbara Benedict said she wears the private's uniform to honor the women who "did everything possible to disguise themselves" in order to go to war.

Barbara Benedict didn't know that joining the 6th Maryland Infantry would eventually lead her to the altar with Ron Benedict.

"Re-enacting is something that we have a passion for, a real common interest," she said.

"There's only so much you can learn from reading a book. I think it has made me a better teacher," said Barbara Benedict, an American history teacher at Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg.

The group's next engagement is Aug. 9-10 at the Leitersburg Peach Festival.

For more information, call 301-695-9655.

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