Fox's Gap battle is first of four re-enactments

September 16, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

Lucky Dylan Shafer.

The first re-enactment he ever saw was Friday's Battle at Fox's Gap with thousands of re-enactors on both sides and Hollywood special effects to bolster the action.

"It was cool. I liked how it was real loud and that it was real," said Dylan, 11, of Severn, Md. "People really fell and they really shot guns."

Truth be told, no one actually got shot, many re-enactors took their time falling after being "shot" and the guns only held a smidgen of gunpowder.


The roughly one-hour battle was enough to make Dylan think of being a re-enactor - a flag boy.

Friday afternoon's battle, the first of four planned during the three-day 140th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Antietam on the Artz Farm south of Hagerstown, was actually a re-enactment of the Battle of South Mountain.

Fought on Sept. 14, 1862, three days before the Battle of Antietam, the Battle of South Mountain was three separate battles - Fox's Gap, Crampton's Gap and Turner's Gap.

In the daylong battle at Fox's Gap there were 858 Union casualties and 1,923 Confederate casualties, including dead, wounded and missing, according to local Civil War historian and author Steven Stotelmyer.

Dylan's family took a spot in front of the twine boundary on the west side of the battlefield. They would be close enough to watch a Confederate battery operate and, as Dylan said, feel the cannon fire sound in his chest.

They also would see a line of Union infantryman about 10 feet in front of them continually advance and retreat.

The battle got a late start while organizers waited for tow vehicles and water trucks to leave the battlefield area.

As Dylan waited for the action to start, he spotted a Union cavalry unit through his binoculars as they lined up on the northeast side of the battlefield.

"Oh my gosh!" he said to his cousins. "Look up on that hill."

Just before the battle began, a group of Confederates let out a Rebel yell. Dylan said it "sounds like a bunch of drunk men."

The fighting began as someone yelled to the nearby Confederates, "battery to your positions," and unseen cannons across the field fired.

Unanswered questions

Like many of the estimated 8,000 spectators, Dylan's family members tried to answer each other's questions about the battle and the re-enactors, but often were only guessing.

Many times Dylan's mother, Michele Turner, simply answered, "I don't know."

"Is that the president?" asked Dylan's cousin, Devin Glorioso, 7.

"It's probably a general," Dylan said.

Spectators later would overhear the man referred to as a colonel.

Other questions were easier to answer.

"Are the blue the Confederates?" Devin asked.

Dylan knew that was wrong because his father, Jim Turner, was wearing gray as a Confederate re-enactor in this, his third re-enactment.

Confederate re-enactors walked by occasionally, voicing understatements for the crowd such as "It's pretty sizable" and "I guess we got a problem over here."

When Confederate sharpshooters fired on the enemy, Dylan said, "Nobody fell. They missed."

"Are these really cap guns," Devin asked.

"Practically. All they're shooting out is powder," Dylan said.

A Confederate cavalryman and a Union cavalryman were circling each other as they battled with swords until the Confederate had a Union cavalryman on both sides. Just as it looked like the Confederate was doomed, reinforcements showed up and the Union cavalryman screamed for help as he was surrounded by charging Confederates with swords.

Dylan overheard a Union re-enactor tell a Confederate re-enactor with a bent sword that he was dead.

The Confederate responded by yelling, "Somebody stab this Yankee in the back," Dylan recounted.

"Do horses die?" Devin asked.

"They're just acting so nobody's stabbing them," Dylan said.

Bursts of smoke

Dylan often pointed out to his cousin, Shelby Glorioso, 11, or his brother, Ethan Turner, 7, unusual looking smoke, such as the ring of white smoke that came out of a Confederate cannon on the other side of the field.

He was most impressed with the gray bursts of smoke that shot up from the ground and the white bursts of smoke about 30 feet in the air above the re-enactors' heads.

Later, Dylan would learn they were staged by special effects experts to simulate cannon fire or a target being hit.

Lamenting the lack of re-enactors pretending to be hit by a Minie or cannon fire, Shelby said more re-enactors should fall.

Just then a Union soldier fell to the ground.

"Thank you," she said.

Smoke from the gunpowder often rolled to the spectators, causing them to turn away and causing some to cough. Sometimes the smoke obscured the action.

Several Confederate and Union groups were scattered over the battlefield, attacking each other in various directions or retreating.

Dylan said he knew the Union was pushing back the Confederates because his father told him that would happen.

"And I've seen war movies ... 'Saving Private Ryan,' " Dylan said.

"That's a different war," his mother said.

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