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Gathering at Antietam

Re-enactors settle into camps for weekend battle

Re-enactors settle into camps for weekend battle

September 12, 2002|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Scattered along a mulch road amid the campsite for Confederate soldiers, small signs of something big were everywhere Wednesday afternoon.

The signs were made of wood, attached to stakes and pounded into the ground. A few read "1st Division Gen. Clark," "Cavalry," "Artillery Gen. Travis," and "Civilians."

Re-enactors used them to determine where they should set up. It's all part of the 140th Commemoration of the Battle of Antietam, set to begin Friday, with battle re-enactments scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. As many as 70,000 people could attend.

At the rear of the Confederate campsite, members of the Pulaski Battery, based in Douglasville, Ga., erected tents, dug a cooking pit and hung pots from an iron bar.

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Wearing shorts, sunglasses and baseball caps and drinking sodas, Pulaski Battery re-enactors said all modern items will disappear by Friday, when they don their gray uniforms.

What cannot be covered with canvas will be enclosed in a tent, said John Nash Jr.

After a 12-hour drive, members of the unit and their families arrived at around 11 a.m. Wednesday and started setting up camp.

Although Pulaski Battery members use as many authentic items as possible at their camp, they are not so obsessed that they count threads in clothing, Nash said.

When spectators tour the camp, members of the unit will cook grits and boil eggs, but that's not all they'll eat. Nash jested that after the visitors leave, steaks and lobster are cooked.

Occasionally, members of the re-enactment unit will become method actors of a sort, conversing with each other as minimally educated farmers would have 140 years ago.

A re-enactor for seven years, Nash said his hobby educates others. "We're trying to re-live and re-teach history," he said. "It's basically to teach what all these men died for."

Outside of their wool uniforms, re-enactors come from all walks of life, all social and economic levels. Once they put on the gray, however, everyone is equal, Nash said.

That's one benefit, Nash said. Plus, "You get away from the baloney going on day to day," he said.

Another benefit is the atmosphere, Nash said.

"It's a very family-oriented, very friendly environment," he said. "The kids say 'Yes sir, yes ma'am'" not because they are forced to, but because that's how they were raised, Nash said.

Luke Myers, 10, expects to be a powder monkey or color bearer during the re-enactment. A powder monkey carried gunpowder to cannon operators.

"It's fun and there's not a lot of modern equipment," Luke gave as reasons why he likes re-enactments. Antietam will be his fourth one.

"I really like the Civil War," he said.

In 1862 at Antietam, Pulaski Battery men fought in the West Woods.

"They were just about decimated," said unit member Tim Gray. "They lost 15 soldiers in 15 minutes."

Pulaski Battery men fought throughout the war, though, and eventually surrendered at Appomattox, Va., Nash said.

Constant wind, which the National Weather Service said gusted at more than 30 mph Wednesday, did not hamper much.

Civil War soldiers dealt with wind too, Nash said.

Meanwhile, at the battlefield's command center, site manager Don Warlick spent Wednesday ironing out last-minute details and problems.

As a freight train rumbled in the background, two people radioed Warlick, asking if any ice had been delivered yet. And he tried to deal with confusion about where "Will Call" tickets should be picked up.

"This is what we do today," he said. "Try to catch problems before they happen."

Overall, though, Warlick said preparations were going smoothly and slightly ahead of schedule.

Speakers and wires were attached to utility poles, in case an emergency announcement needs to be made. Empty tents were set up, with empty tables in them. Food sellers and other vendors should finish setting up today, Warlick said.

He likened the site to a small town, saying it needs to have all the amenities required for 1,400 people spread over 1,200 acres.

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