Re-enactment "hot, exciting" and accurate

September 09, 2000

Re-enactment "hot, exciting" and accurate


When it comes to re-fighting the Civil War, two skills are paramount - the ability to follow the script and the ability to improvise when necessary.

That combination, spectators and re-enactors agreed, resulted in a near-flawless re-enactment Saturday of the engagement of Fox's Gap, one of the decisive encounters of the Sept. 14, 1862 Battle of South Mountain.

"It was hot, exciting and well-organized. The battle went off as it was choreographed," said Jill Allred, a Confederate re-enactor from Columbia, Md.

"It was highly accurate in terms of pace and position," said Doug Dobbs of Hagerstown, a member of the committee that organized the fifth annual Fire on the Mountain event.


Dobbs was among those called on to improvise. When walkie-talkie communications to a Union unit failed, Dobbs sprinted across the battlefield much like a messenger of 138 years ago.

His orders?

"I told them to charge!" Dobbs said.

High-tech influences, while not obvious, contributed to the re-enactment's success. Cannons were towed into position by Chevy pickup trucks: pyrotechnic blasts simulating cannonball explosions were coordinated by walkie-talkie.

Even the beginning of the battle was delayed for several minutes with walkie-talkie orders to have "random firing and occasion patriotic cheers ... the theatrical effect, we'll use it to our advantage."

The sounds of the battle were recorded for possible use in "Wicked Spring," a Civil War-era film that's likely to be an entry in the Sundance Film Festival.

The steady marching of troops down a bramble-filled lane which was supposed to be the Old Sharpsburg Road and the rest of the battle were recorded by an experimental 3-D video camera being developed by Sanyo Multimedia Division.

The re-enactment, held at the Boonsboro town farm, was about five miles southeast of Fox's Gap.

After an all-out fight amid the trees, the Union troops outflanked the Confederates on their left side. Pressing their advantage, the Union troops steadily pushed the Confederates back until the field was littered with fallen Johnny Rebs.

As a single bugler sounded "Taps," women scurried around the battlefield offering aid and comfort - and, most importantly, water - to troops.

With Saturday's temperatures in the 80s, soldiers found their wool uniforms uncomfortable. One re-enactor suffered from heat-related illness and was taken from the field by an ambulance.

"It was a true period rush being out on the field," Susan Kelly of Alexandria, Va., said of her nursing duties. "It brought tears to my eyes."

The on-the-field participants were not the only ones who came dressed for the occasion. Many of the spectators came in period dress, watching the battle from the bramble-filled lane, much like the spectators did at the war's first major battle - Manassas as it's called by the Rebels and Bull Run as it's called by the Yankees.

Kurt and Maria Callison of Frederick, Md., were among those dressed in period clothes.

The Callisons said they wore period clothes to honor the civilian aspects of the Civil War, in particular the women who aided the wounded on both sides.

"It took a lot of courage for Southern women to help their neighbors to the north," Maria Callison said.

More than 1,000 re-enactors and twice as many spectators were on hand for Saturday's event. The re-enactment is expected to raise as much as $10,000 for the Central Maryland Heritage League, a nonprofit land trust organization.

The Fire on the Mountain re-enactment concluded Sunday with the battle of Crampton's Gap. During this re-enactment, spectators were surrounded by fighting troops, said Russ Richards, chairman and founder of Fire on the Mountain.

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