Staging a battle for hearts, minds

Planning is key for massive re-enactment

Planning is key for massive re-enactment

September 10, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

Behind every burst of smoke in the air or dirt erupting when cannon fire sounds this weekend there will be a special effects expert.

"What we're going to do is put the bang on the other side of the boom," said Matt Vogel, whose New York City special effects outfit will supply the pyrotechnics for the 140th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Antietam.

Vogel is one of the key behind-the-scenes people setting up this weekend's event.

Re-enactors will be firing minute amounts of gunpowder from their firearms or the more than 100 pieces of artillery split between the Union and Confederate forces, Vogel said.


To make it look like fire from the cannons is hitting the battlefield, Vogel's crew will set off air and ground bursts. Crew members will set off the bursts, being careful not to set off ground effects when re-enactors are too close, Vogel said.

To create ground bursts, metal pots containing black powder and fill such as dirt will be placed in holes around the battlefields, Vogel said. When a re-enactor approaches the pot, a special effects crew member will set it off so the dirt and white smoke explode about 30 feet high, he said.

The pots will be marked so re-enactors know where they are, said Vogel, whose firm did the special effects for "Gods and Generals."

"It's going to be the best pyrotechnics ever at any re-enactment, I guarantee you," Dennis Frye said.

Washington County Planning Director Bob Arch and Frye, a Civil War historian who is an associate producer for "Gods and Generals," are co-chairmen of the event's organizing sponsor, the Antietam Commemoration Committee.

Both men were involved in organizing the 135th anniversary re-enactment at the Rench Road site.

Frye, 44, who lives south of Sharpsburg, is in charge of advertising, publicity and sponsorship.

In addition to raising more than $250,000 in cash and in-kind sponsorships, Frye sees himself as a teacher this weekend.

"We are the largest educational outdoor classroom in the United States that weekend," said Frye, who grew up in southern Washington County where as a child he played in Civil War fortifications.

"The Civil War is, although not genetically part of my makeup, it has been infused into my blood for over four decades," Frye said.

Five years ago when Frye was head of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites Inc. he helped spearhead the effort to have a 135th anniversary re-enactment for Antietam and to promote Hagerstown and Washington County as the Crossroads of the Civil War.

No longer with the Civil War site preservation group, Frye said he's spent even more time preparing this year's event.

Arch also has taken a larger role in this event.

In addition to tackling logistics again, Arch oversees re-enactor registration.

Arch, 51, of Williamsport, has been a Civil War enthusiast his entire life.

Like Frye, he had a small role in the Civil War film "Gods and Generals," which was filmed in and around Washington County last fall and will be released early next year.

The logistics side of Arch's job includes coordinating with local police, fire, rescue and utilities and overseeing site preparation with Don Warlick.

As site manager for the event, Warlick has overseen the mowing of fields to make way for re-enactor camps, parking lots, pedestrian paths and some battle scenarios.

He ensured deep plowing to create the Sunken Road that would later be known as Bloody Lane and the installation of more than 2 miles of plastic pipe to supply water to the re-enactor camps and the food and drink area.

Warlick also directed Washington County Detention Center prisoners as they built wooden fences for the battle scenarios.

Warlick often was assisted by Union commander Dana Heim and Frank Artz, whose family is once again allowing their land to be used for the event.

"A lot of people don't realize it's a lot of work," said Warlick, of Fort Valley, Va.

Warlick's job doesn't end when the event begins. At that point, it is Warlick that the re-enactors will turn to when they have a question or problem.

Then there are two weeks of cleanup.

"The farm's gotta go back better than we found it," Warlick said.

As sutler coordinator, Cindy Hopes, of Fort Valley, divided space up for 92 sutlers. Sutlers are vendors who sell period wares such as homemade root beer, kettle corn and old-fashioned photographers who print photos on tin or glass.

While the sutlers will sell souvenirs for spectators, they are important for the more than 13,000 re-enactors who may need to buy period supplies when they arrive, Hopes said. Hopes runs Heirloom Emporium, which sells mostly women's clothing and some men's clothing and saddlery.

Rick Hemphill has been preparing to film the event for sale as well as for a Webcast. His Hagerstown production company, Electric Collodion Pictures, bought film and video reproduction rights to the event.

C-SPAN was among the first to contact Hemphill for approval to show footage of some event speakers, said Hemphill, who also is chief deputy clerk for Washington County Circuit Court.

This Civil War re-enactment will be the first to be Webcast, Hemphill said. His crew will try to Webcast the battles live, although there may be a 15- to 20-minute delay, he said.

Hemphill's crew will train eight cameras on each battle for the video. The Webcast will feature only one camera angle.

The Webcast isn't a substitute for seeing the event in person, but will allow more people across the country and overseas to see some of the action, Hemphill said.

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