The Battle of South Mountain

August 27, 1997


Staff Writer

The re-enactment of the battle of South Mountain Saturday, Aug. 30, and Sunday, Aug. 31, won't be the biggest Civil War re-enactment in the country this year. And that's OK.

The event, which organizer Russ Richards describes as "laid-back," will be smaller than the 135th Anniversary Re-enactment of the Battle of Antietam which is expected to draw 10,000 re-enactors and 50,000 spectators two weeks later.

Richards anticipates about 800 troops: 500 re-enactors will represent 10,000 Confederate soldiers, and 300 re-enactors will stand for the 25,000 Federal troops who fought on South Mountain near Boonsboro Sept. 14, 1862. He's had interest from re-enactors as far away as Canada and Florida.


Despite the smaller scale, history will come to life in a farm field owned by the town of Boonsboro off Monroe Road. There will be troop encampments, sutlers and demonstrations of cavalry, military drills and civilian activities.

The battle at Fox's Gap will be re-enacted at 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30; the Turner's Gap action will take place at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 31.

Richards hopes to have a night signaling demonstration with torches from South Mountain Saturday. The third stage of the battle, which occurred 6 miles south at Crampton's Gap, now Gapland, will not be part of the weekend event.

The grounds will be open to spectators from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 30, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 31. Admission is $10 per car.

All proceeds will benefit Central Maryland Heritage League, a volunteer organization dedicated to preserving cultural and environmental landscapes, including Civil War heritage sites. The organization, founded in 1989, is a nonprofit land trust which owns 40 acres of land on Catoctin Mountain between Middletown, Md., and Frederick, Md., about 32 acres of South Mountain and Dahlgren Chapel on Alternate U.S. 40 in Boonsboro, according to Steven R. Stotelmyer, vice president.

The league can write conservation easements on historical or agricultural property. The group is selling honorary square-foot parcels of the South Mountain battlefield sites for contributions of $25.

Visual images

Why should Civil War battle sites be preserved?

Tom Clemens, president of Save Historic Antietam Foundation, believes it's important to commemorate and honor the people who were there and sacrificed their lives. A history professor at Hagerstown Junior College, Clemens also believes the sites are important visual images.

"We need these battlefields as interpretive tools to teach coming generations about our history," he adds.

Richards blames Clemens for getting him interested in the Civil War. Richards is a re-enactor in the Seventh Maryland Volunteer Infantry. One of his relatives served in the regiment, which was formed in Hagerstown in 1862.

He spoke with excitement about his role as an aide to Union Gen. Pittman in the documentary, "Antietam," being filmed on and near the site of our nation's bloodiest battle.

One of his lines - "This must be a hoax" - is a soldier's reaction to the Sept. 13, 1862, discovery of Gen. Robert E. Lee's lost orders by Union soldiers. The plans for Lee's campaign were wrapped around three cigars and left at an abandoned campsite in Frederick.

With the enemy's plan in his possession, Federal Gen. George McClellan sent troops from Frederick toward Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and Boonsboro, hoping to divide the Confederate forces in two. Union forces met part of Lee's forces in the Battle of South Mountain Sept. 14, a prelude to Antietam three days later.

The incident would be too corny as a device in a novel, Clemens says. However improbable, it was an important part of the campaign, an important and interesting part of our history.

"Truth is stranger than fiction," he adds.

The battle of South Mountain was the Civil War's first major battle fought on free soil, according to Richards. He believes this re-enactment will be a "win, win, win" situation. Re-enactors can enjoy reliving history, spectators can witness it, and the effort will help to preserve the sites where it occurred.

The Battle of South Mountain

Admission is $10 per car. For information, call 301-733-9277.

Preregistration for re-enactors is $5; registration the day of the event is $10. To register, call Great American Civil War Society in Gettysburg, Pa., at 1-717-528-8761.

The Herald-Mail Articles