Civil War re-enactors on hunt for 'elephant'

August 29, 2005|by KAREN HANNA


In a valley surrounded by farmland and new housing developments, some Civil War re-enactors might have seen "the elephant."

"Within about the first 10 minutes of firing, it was so thick with smoke, you couldn't see 12 yards in either direction, and there were tears in my eyes. I just felt something," Andy Gutkowski, 17, said Sunday as he changed into 21st-century clothing in a parking area outside an encampment of federal and Confederate troops near Boonsboro.

According to registration coordinator Laura Anders of Hagerstown, between 900 and 950 men, women and children took part in Western Maryland Heritage Foundation's "Summer of '62," a weeklong re-enactment of Civil War history.

They went looking for the elephant - the elusive moment when the grip of present tense dissolves into the past - and they found history.


"It's the way old soldiers would explain going into battle to new soldiers. It's like explaining what an elephant looks like to someone who's never seen one," said Chris Hudgins, a re-enactor from Harleysville, Pa.

Several re-enactors, including Hudgins and Andy, said Sunday they experienced such a moment during the Battle of Brawner's Farm, one of two engagements staged Saturday off Md. 34.

Andy, who traveled with friends to the event from his home near Buffalo, N.Y., said he experienced fear as smoke and echoes of musket fire filled the air in the valley where the battle took place.

"It was like looking into a time machine, and I had been sick of this event because of how much rain we were getting, and it just made me realize what the average soldier went through," Andy said.

According to the program's schedule, the Confederate and Union troops planned Sunday to stage part of the Battle of Manassas.

Andy and his friend, Daniel Wall, 19, hiked from the encampment back to the black Mitsubishi Eclipse of their unit leader, hoping to put to rest some present-day concerns - according to Andy and Wall, they had lost a wallet and decided to change into more-comfortable clothes.

The coupe's trunk overflowed with reproduction Civil War gear, including sweat- and mud-soaked socks and shirts and wool pants. The license plates read, "SGT 49NY," a reference to the owner's longtime status as sergeant of the 49th New York Volunteers, Co. B, re-enactment unit. A bumper sticker asked, "Got hardtack?"

Other license plates read "GETYSBG," "DE MULE" and "STHN SON."

Confederate Pfc. Hudgins, 38, who has been re-enacting for about three years, said if they desire, participants always can get in their cars and leave. The mud, heat, humidity, shirts that button in odd places and pants that scratch in all the wrong areas all add up to an expensive way to enjoy "pain and suffering for fun," Hudgins said.

But, he said, the chance to experience moments when history seems more real than now keeps him coming back.

"You can almost get that feeling: You're no longer in the 21st century, and maybe you're there, you're in the moment ... Those moments are very rewarding," Hudgins said.

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