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Rangers seek plaque vandals

September 09, 2002|by KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

kimy@herald-mail.com

SHARPSBURG - Rangers at Antietam National Battlefield are asking for the public's help in finding the thieves and vandals who have stolen and damaged Civil War plaques in Washington and Frederick counties.

The plaques were cast in the 1890s and historians consulted Civil War veterans in creating the text and deciding their locations to mark the battle lines for the Battle of Antietam.

"We could recast but it's another little piece of history that has disappeared," Antietam Superintendent John Howard said.

The park's some 350 plaques are cast iron and painted black with white raised lettering.

Last year, staff noticed a directional sign missing at the intersection of Smoketown and Dunker Church roads, Chief Ranger Ed Wenschhof said.

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Then on June 29, a War Department plaque at the intersection of Gapland and Mount Church roads in Frederick County was destroyed when a driver crashed into it, he said. The driver fled the scene, he said.

That tablet will cost $4,500 to replace, Wenschhof said.

The most recent incident was on Aug. 27 when a marker at the intersection of Richardson Avenue and Bloody Lane was taken. The missing tablet read "Piper's Barn" and had a white arrow pointing to the right on it, he said.

The Civil War plaques are mounted to the ground with bolts and have either been pried free with a crowbar or tilted until the bolts broke, Wenschhof said.

At the site of the Smoketown Road theft, bolts were found on the ground bent into a "U" shape, he said.

If the missing markers are found they may or may not be able to be reused based on their condition, Wenschhof said.

Cracks in the flat sections of the cast iron can be fixed but fissures through the raised lettering are likely too difficult to repair, Wenschhof said.

Wenschhof said those responsible may be relic hunters looking for a piece of history to keep or sell or just vandals who like to collect road signs.

Penalties for removing archaeological resources from federal lands can include up to five years in prison and $200,000 in fines, Wenschhof said.

One option the battlefield may take to reduce the vandalism/theft problem would be to gate additional sections of the park, but officials are hesitant to restrict public access and some park roads are needed by the public to reach private homes, he said.

The park is routinely patrolled by its four park rangers and Washington County Sheriff's deputies. Increasing ranger patrols is not likely because of the park's tight budget, Wenschhof said.

Anyone who may have seen any suspicious behavior or heard anything is asked to contact the battlefield at 301-432-7648 or 1-866-677-6677, which is a 24-hour line. Calls can be anonymous. An unspecified reward is being offered by the battlefield for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those involved.

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