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Sharpsburg celebrates at Heritage Festival

September 19, 1998|By MARLO BARNHART

SHARPSBURG - Bill Wilke and Jeff Caldwell weren't disappointed Saturday when they brought their families all the way from Elmer, N.J., for the Sharpsburg Heritage Festival.

"We were really sorry we missed the big Battle of Antietam re-enactment which we understand was last year," Wilke said. "But if they do it again in four years, we'll be back."

Wilke was especially intrigued to learn that the 100th anniversary re-enactment was fought on the actual battlefield in 1962. That was ruled out in 1997 because of possibility of damage to the battlefield.

The two New Jersey families - proud to call themselves Civil War buffs - were visiting the Antietam Battlefield for the first time.

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They and thousands of others came to Sharpsburg on Saturday for crafts, quilt exhibitions, horse-drawn carriage and pony rides, and a number of other timely exhibitions.

And there were lectures.

At the Dunkard Church, Ranger Al Fiedler gave an animated talk about some lesser-known facts about the battle on Sept. 17, 1862, the single bloodiest day of the entire Civil War.

"When Gen. George Meade was leaving Gettysburg, Pa., the Potomac River was flooded and his Union army couldn't cross right away," Fiedler said.

That delay was pivotal to the outcome of the Battle of Antietam.

A standing-room-only crowd hung on every word as Fiedler speculated that if Union Gen. George McClellan had fought Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's forces the next day on Sept. 18, 1862 near Sharpsburg, the Civil War might have ended right there.

"Instead, the war went on for another 2 1/2 years," Fiedler said.

After the talk, the Wilkes and Caldwells headed across the road from the church to a Civil War encampment.

Eleven-year-old Rachel Caldwell was particularly interested since she said she will begin studying the Civil War this year in her school.

Traffic was detoured through Sharpsburg's main street so people could walk about freely without having to dodge vehicles as in years past.

Tour buses ran all day from the battlefield to the town, ferrying tourists back and forth to the activities.

The weather even cooperated, muting the late summer sun and stirring up cool breezes and even a hint of much-needed rainfall.

Men, women and children in Civil War-era costumes walked among the more casually clothed.

Wandering minstrels meandered on the sidewalks and porches, singing their period songs and delighting both the young and the old.

Events at both the battlefield and in the town continue today.

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