Letters to the editor - 10/13/02

October 14, 2002

Re-enactment a shameful shadow of 1997

To the editor:

The old saying - "lightning doesn't strike twice" - couldn't be more appropriate when considering the stark differences between the quality and execution of the 135th Antietam re-enactment in 1997 and the re-enactment held recently outside Hagerstown.

The only similarity is that both were conducted on the same farm property. Aside from this obvious fact, one can only ponder what made the previous event one of the best in the history of re-enacting and this year's such an utter disappointment, from a re-enator's point of view.

Judging by the glowing remarks offered after the event by the Hagerstown-area news media, I have some important questions: What event were they covering? Did they know what they were looking at?

It reminds me a lot of my decade-long experience as an aerospace correspondent in the 1980s and early '90s, when few of my colleagues had any understanding of the technical nature of the space program. It is just as easy, now, for reporters to accept news releases at face value without asking questions.


The sad truth is that despite the audio applause from spectators and the written one from the news media, few of the battle scenarios remotely resembled the historical record. During the "Bloody Lane" battle, Confederate reserves were forced into the gap between the Federal flank and spectators before Union troops could reach the fence line. During the "A.P. Hill" battle, there were several engagements on the same field simultaneously, sometimes forcing Rebel and Union lines side-by-side, while shooting in the opposite direction or mixed in among the cannon where, due to safety reasons, we were unable to fire at each other. This must have looked completely ridiculous to onlookers.

Aside from the poorly coordinated battles, which quickly turned sour, were issues which the Antietam Commemoration Committee and event organizers ignored throughout the entire weekend: Scarce or no firewood in some Federal and Confederate camps, poor water pressure at the extreme end of the campsites, inadequate parking and violations of safety protocols.

The public - and no doubt the media - were aware that in protest of the lack of firewood for three days, about two-thirds of the Federal Vincent's Brigade (about 400 re-enactors and all officers) refused to take the field for the "Corn Field" battle. Instead of supporting us, the Federal commander ignored the need for adequate wood for warmth and cooking, and went on with the show. In desperation, the Second Battalion took to the woods next to I-70, with axes, to fell trees.

Additionally, the public didn't hear about the three tow trucks in the Vincent's Brigade camp, which were surrounded by angry re-enactors. After being kicked out of the Federal parking areas on Saturday, due to being full, a number of people were forced to park in camp. After seeing the wisdom of the argument, event security and police were able to diffuse the situation.

In seven years of re-enacting, I've never witnessed so many safety violations on the field. These included some individuals firing paper wads, pounding their rifle butts on the ground while loaded or - incredibly - firing within two feet of spectators during "Bloody Lane." This could have been a serious issue if debris had hit the crowd.

Consider for a moment that, according to some estimates, this re-enactment only attracted about two-thirds of the early projected estimate of 15,000 re-enactors. If the event organizers were unable to handle a far smaller number, one can only imagine the added chaos caused by more vehicles, colder overnight weather or no water.

The entire re-enactment community deserves an apology from Don Warlick, re-enactor Coordinator, as well as co-chairs Robert Arch and Dennis Frye, for this catastrophe. It will be interesting to see how much editing is required on the official video tape to make this turkey look more like an eagle.

If this type of abuse of re-enactors continues by event organizers, it may well spell the end of the so-called "mega events" and, as for me, I plan to be more selective with my registration fees in the future. You might ignore us, organizers, but you will miss the Yankee greenbacks.

Stephen M. Cobaugh


93rd Pa. Vol. Infantry

Vincent's Brigade

These two don't help

To the editor:

Several months ago The Herald-Mail newspapers carried a full-page ad purporting to promote interest in our state by businesses from beyond our borders. Ninety percent of the page was filled with larger than-life images of two heroic figures with looks of benevolent optimism on their well-featured faces.

Who were these two representatives of our state's ideal business climate? Perhaps solid workmen, or professional people, or businessmen and women? Guess again. It was our engaging Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and our personable and trusted Gov. Parris Glendening.

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