Young men build old fence

August 21, 1997


Staff Writer

Frank Artz slowly rumbled his tractor along the corn fields of his 612-acre farm on Rench Road.

But instead of corn sheaths, the Hagerstown farmer was hauling about 25 pieces of 5-foot-long splintered wooden logs and was dropping them on the ground with a thud.

From there, his brother, Firp, 64, and two friends, Don Grove, 71, of Clear Spring, and Scratch Hammond, 68, of Hagerstown, took turns mechanically picking up a log, inserting it horizontally through holes in poles standing parallel on either side of them, and hammering it in place with a small hatchet or mallet.

"Don, don't go crazy with the hammer," shouted out Firp Artz.

"It's like he's back to splitting rails," yelled brother Frank, who had asked Grove and Hammond over to help him work.


The men took several hours Thursday erecting a rail fence on the Artz farm in preparation for the 135th re-enactment of the Battle of Antietam, sponsored by the Antietam Commemoration Committee, Inc.

Organizers expect up to 50,000 spectators to attend the historic event, which will be held Sept. 12 to 14.

The zigzagging 600-foot rail fence will help transform Artz's slightly hilly farmland into the battlefield where Union soldiers attacked the Confederates in Miller's Cornfields the morning of Sept. 17, 1862.

In only the first phase of the Battle of Antietam, about 5,600 soldiers on both sides were killed or wounded in the cornfield clash. That's almost the same number of American troops killed during the D-Day invasion during World War II.

Re-enactors will bring to life that deadly day at Antietam at dawn on Sept. 14, thanks to the building efforts of the four men.

"This is the youngest team I've ever had to work with," joked Don Warlick, 53, a re-enactor in charge of this year's cornfield battle celebration.

"We're trying to do things as close to what actually happened in history. We're trying to re-enact history, re-create it, not rewrite it," Warlick said.

He said men in the 1800s had built similar wood rail fences, which were later used as protection from enemy lines and even firewood during the Civil War.

Warlick cringed a little as Artz's tractor came to a loud, grinding halt, explaining that 19th century builders used horse-drawn carriages to carry logs back and forth.

"If Robert E. Lee had a tractor, they might have won the war," he said, laughing loudly.

Carrying on a constant, light banter, the men didn't seem to mind the grunt work.

"Somebody's got to do it," Frank Artz said.

"When you're standing around not doing anything, and a man asks you for a hand, it seems like common courtesy to help out," Grove said, during a short 5-minute break. "If I did (mind), I wouldn't be here."

The Herald-Mail Articles