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Ready for battle

August 09, 1997

Commanders prepare for re-enactment next month

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

Like the Civil War commanders they will portray, Chuck Hillsman and Dana Heim on Saturday morning surveyed the land they will oversee in preparation for next month's "battle."

Heim, who will lead the Union troops at the re-enactment of the Battle of Antietam, pointed to a large cornfield in front of him, describing in detail the flurry of fighting that took place the morning of Sept. 17, 1862.

He wants to the re-enactment to appear much the same, for both the spectators and participants.

"They should leave the cornfield exhausted, out of ammunition, and feeling like a real Civil War moment," said Heim, who is from Lebanon, Pa.

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"This is going to be awesome," said Hillsman, the Confederate commander, who is from Jetersville, Va.

The purpose of getting Hillsman and Heim together was to give them a preparatory course on the characteristics of the land, as well as going over the specifics of the re-enactment.

"This is an orientation for the commanders," said Dennis Frye, co-chairman of the 135th Commemorative Re-enactment of the Battle of Antietam, which will take place Sept. 12-14.

Because they event is so large, with as many as 70,000 spectators and re-enactors expected, it would be impossible to use the real battlefield at Sharpsburg, officials said. Instead, the re-enactment will be on the 612-acre Artz farm south of Hagerstown that straddles Rench Road.

Hillsman and Heim spent several hours going over various locations and battle scenarios, so there won't be too many surprises five weeks from now when they will be at the helm of large armies of re-enactors larger than 5,000 men each. They will lead the soldiers into "battle" against each other in re-enactments of some of the most notoriously bloody fighting in the nation's history.

So it seemed fitting that the Union and Confederate contingents arrived at the Artz farm in two separate groups, and they parked their cars in two distinct clusters.

But there was no animosity - not even mocked - as Hillsman and Heim trudged across the fields and roads where the encampments and battles will take place. There was much agreement on battle choreography, and someone even remarked that Hillsman was wearing a blue shirt, while Heim was wearing gray.

"I think that proves that me and Chuck understand the war is over," Heim said with a laugh.

Hillsman said the Antietam commemoration is drawing a great deal of interest from re-enactors throughout the country, and even some in Europe. He said there are more re-enactors coming from one Texas brigade than were at the actual battle.

He said part of the reason for the enthusiasm is that the re-enactors know that some of the proceeds from the commemoration will go toward the preservation of Civil War battlefields.

"They have a passion for preservation," Hillsman said.

Don Warlick, site coordinator for the re-enactment, said he expected just about five people from each side would show for Saturday's walk-through, but about a dozen each came.

He said those people will return home this week and drum up more support for the re-enactment, which could eventually get as many as 12,000 re-enactors.

"You'll get more participation. You'll get more enthusiasm," Warlick said.

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