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Living history series begins in fiery 1864

July 26, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - Sunday wasn't the first time 7-year-old Nathanael Miller visited Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

But, thanks to members of the 1st Delaware Regiment, it was the first time the budding Civil War buff got a feel for what it was like during the war, when Union soldiers camped around the town.

"It's cool," said the young Gaithersburg, Md., resident, who peeked into the re-enactors' tents as he toured the small encampment with a large group of relatives.

The soldiers' guns were the neatest part, he said.

Nathanael's mom, Gina Miller, 30, said she was glad the park was offering the living history program.

"I think it's very educational. It's nice. I know my husband loves it," she said.

This weekend's Summer of Fire program - featuring a small encampment along the Shenandoah River and some military drills - was the first in a series of military living history programs scheduled at the park during the summer and early fall.

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About a dozen soldiers and civilians from the 1st Delaware set up camp Saturday between the shuttle station on Hamilton Street and the riverbank.

They stayed through the night and into Sunday afternoon.

The location made the camp a magnet for visitors, who strolled around the tents, asked questions and took snapshots of the participants dressed in period clothing.

As far as re-enactors were concerned, it was the summer of 1864, when Harpers Ferry was bustling with wagon trains bringing in supplies and prisoners of war being processed, said re-enactor John Daniel, 46, of Herndon, Va.

In reality, the regiment wasn't in Harpers Ferry then but was off fighting somewhere else, said Daniel, a history teacher who got interested in re-enacting in the 1960s.

The group will portray itself Sept. 26 and 27 during a re-enactment set after the Battle of Antietam in 1862, when the regiment came to Harpers Ferry, he said.

This weekend's program, set in the last summer of the war, was dubbed "Summer of Fire" because Union troops were instructed to scorch the Shenandoah Valley after the Battle of Monocacy, destroying homes, crops, livestock and rail lines, said re-enactor Jeff Mack, 20, of Falls Church, Va.

"There were Union troops garrisoned in the town, so we're kind of representing that," said re-enactor Ralph Powell, 31, of New Market, Md.

The unit, which has members from Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Delaware, does a lot of smaller living history programs and participates in larger battle re-enactments, Powell said.

The civilian re-enactors who came along for the weekend didn't have as much to do as their male counterparts, said Sylvia Daniel, 14, of Herndon, Va., who was reading a book under a larger canvas tent while her father talked to visitors.

Still, Harpers Ferry is a prime place for a living history event, said the re-enactment veteran, who started when she was 5 years old.

"We like doing them here because it's a nice location. It's a nice town. It's right on the river, and you have a chance to go shopping," she said.

More military living history programs are scheduled for Aug. 1 and 2, Aug. 15 and 16, Aug. 22 and 23, Aug. 29 and 30, Sept. 12 and 13, and Sept. 26 and 27.

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