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Re-enactors fear Antietam event too grandiose

September 08, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

BURKITTSVILLE, Md. - County and business leaders are eagerly anticipating this week's re-enactment commemorating the 135th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, but some re-enactors are approaching the spectacle with misgivings.

"Everyone's trying to cash in on the tourists' money," said James Owens, who was packing up equipment from a two-day re-enactment of a Civil War encampment at Gathland State Park north of Burkittsville on Sunday.

Owens, 35, who portrays a second lieutenant for the First Minnesota, said many re-enactors are excited about the prospect of participating in such a gigantic re-enactment that will give a sense for the massing of troops during the war. But he added that large re-enactments often are overly commercialized and authenticity sometimes suffers.

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"Quality has suffered to a great degree, both in terms of tactics and how the soldiers are portrayed," he said. "It's become a reason to go out and drink with the boys."

Owens, who lives in Silver Spring, Md., said re-enactors have a term for re-enactments that sacrifice realism for size: FARB - Far be it from authentic.

John Lowry, 44, first sergeant for the 53rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, said he was drawn to the hobby by the re-enactments. Now, however, he said he prefers smaller living history demonstrations like last weekend's Gathland Park event.

Lowry and about five other re-enactors pitched tents and camped off Gapland Road Saturday and Sunday. Visitors over the two days saw how Union soldiers lived between battles, what they ate and the tools they worked with.

Re-enactors also re-created a 19th-century field hospital. Civil War medicine was crude: Bullet wounds often resulted in amputated limbs and the instruments of choice were knives and saws, Lowry said.

Still Lowry, who lives in Ephrata, Pa., said all re-enactors should experience battle re-creations to get a feel for the life of a Civil War soldier.

"We've had days where we've woken up and there's snow on the ground and our canteens are frozen solid," he said.

Living history programs give re-enactors more opportunity to interact with spectators, some said.

"You get to talk to the public about what you do," said Andy Beaver, 18, who has been participating in re-enactments for the last six months.

Owens said he also enjoys re-enacting scenarios that history has given short shrift. The Gathland program, for instance, was inspired by the Battle of South Mountain.

"This battlefield is pretty much a forgotten battlefield - all of South Mountain," he said. "The idea (of the small re-enactment) was quality over quantity."

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