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The bloodiest day

Battles begin in cornfield

Battles begin in cornfield

September 16, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

With only faint starlight to guide them, thousands of war re-enactors plunged into a cornfield before dawn Saturday, shooting blank volleys at unseen enemies and keeping the Civil War alive for another day.

They were re-creating the brutal Cornfield Battle, an early-morning slugfest that started the Battle of Antietam, America's bloodiest day.

Thousands of spectators spread out among the dark fields of the Artz farm, south of Hagerstown, to watch the Confederacy take on the Union.

By the time an orange sun emerged at 7 a.m., more than 13,000 re-enactors had been exchanging musket and cannon fire for an hour.

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Even after daybreak, the battle was cloaked by a sheen of gunsmoke and partially plundered cornstalks.

At around 7:20 a.m., the haze dissipated. The battle continued at least 10 more minutes, but by then many re-enactors lay still, simulating death or injury.

"It was great - extremely realistic," said Col. Jack Travis of Raleigh, N.C., a Confederate re-enactor who belongs to the Alexander's Battalion of Longstreet's Corps. "The smoke was perfect, which is how it would have been."

Len Clark of Columbus, Ohio, a member of the 1st Ohio State Artillery Lighthouse Regiment on the Union side, said the battle was appropriately chaotic.

Giving hand signals and getting 10,000 troops into position in the dark - none of that went smoothly, but "that's totally the way it was," Clark said. "You don't want it to be a fine drill. ... It's hard to move that many people."

Robert Streett of Westminster, Md., only caught the tail end of the Cornfield Battle, but loved it just the same.

"It was about the dedication of those guys," he said after the "dead" and "wounded" re-enactors had gotten back on their feet and left. "It brought tears to my eyes thinking of the number of guys who did not walk out."

Streett's sons, Stephen, 12, and Matthew, 9, also were impressed.

"It's nice to see something that you weren't around to see," Stephen said.

"It was really quite awesome, standing on the road, thousands (of re-enactors) going by as they left, with officers on horseback," said Richard Paulding of Westminster, Md., who accompanied the Streetts and brought four of his seven children with him.

Spectators lined Rench Road 10 deep on the north side. Many preferred a higher vantage point at the top of a hill.

The re-enactment cornfield wasn't as large as D.R. Miller's 30-acre cornfield in Sharpsburg, which was leveled and littered with bodies after the actual battle on Sept. 17, 1862.

About twice as many Union and Confederate troops fought in the actual cornfield battle as there were in Saturday's re-enactment and the real one lasted about twice as long.

"This is the biggest (re-enactment) I've ever seen, as far as the number of people," said Paul Gronefeld of Erlanger, Ky. He has seen re-enactments in three other places: Mill Springs, Ky., Perryville, Ky., and Shiloh, Tenn.

Gronefeld, a retired history teacher, liked to tell his students that he died at Pickett's Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg.

"This is his fifth life," cracked his wife, Mary Jule Gronefeld.

"After his class, they believe him," added Steve Bunner of Zephyrhills, Fla., whose wife, Patti, is Mary Jule's sister.

The Bunners flew to Cincinnati to meet up with the Gronefelds. Together, they drove east. The couples also plan to see Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C., and Gettysburg. They also plan to visit the Gronefelds' daughter in Frederick, Md.

Henry Williams of Landover, Md., said watching the Cornfield Battle was good, but "(seeing) Bloody Lane's my mission."

Williams has focused on Revolutionary War history, but recently became interested in the Civil War.

"I'm moving right along," he said.

Jane Shank of Hagerstown called the Cornfield re-enactment "excellent."

She and her daughter, Andrea Lawrence, spent Friday night at the re-enactment site to be ready for the early battle, but got no sleep because of the hubbub around them.

"I thought it would be a shame not to go, living so close," she said.

After watching the re-enactment, Shank said she was inspired to go to Sharpsburg today to see the actual battlefield.

"I've been there numerous times," she said, "but I want to go down and refresh my memory."

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