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Re-enactors march for flag restoration

September 20, 2005|by Alicia Notarianni

anotarianni@herald-mail.com

The morning of Sept. 17, 1862, A.P. Hill led the Tennessee division of the Confederate military forces on a 17-mile trek from Harpers Ferry, W.Va., into battle at Antietam.

On Saturday, Sept. 17, 2005, the Tennessee division re-enactment group trudged the same path in an effort to educate people about American history while raising funds to restore the flags carried by Hill and his troops.

John DeSalis, 40, of Chambersburg, Pa., helped organize the commemorative event, which now is in its second year. DeSalis said about 15 re-enactors camped out Friday night at Wilson Farm on Antietam Battlefield. They rose around 4 a.m. and drove to Harpers Ferry to begin their march around 5:30 a.m.

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"We marched at a rate of about 2.2 miles per hour, probably really close to their rate," DeSalis said. "Hill's men left Harpers Ferry with a little over 6,000 men, but a little over 3,000 fell out due to fast pace."

The memorial hike entailed crossing a 900-foot expanse of the Potomac River at Boteler's Ford, an aspect of the event that had to be omitted last year due to precarious weather conditions that followed Hurricane Ivan.

"This year, we crossed the river," DeSalis said. "It took about a half hour to get everyone across."

Josh Switzer, 19, of Sharpsburg, a member of the Tennessee division re-enactment group, said the current was "swift in some spots," causing some of the re-enactors to slip and fall.

Sandy Andrews, 47, of Hagerstown said the Confederate troops experienced the same thing while crossing the river with blanket rolls, haversacks, canteens and weapons in tote.

"Their motto was 'Keep that powder dry'," Andrews said.

The re-enactors spoke with tourists along the route, sharing historical information and answering questions. Upon their arrival at the crossroads of Harpers Ferry and Millers Sawmill roads at the edge of Antietam Battlefield around 2:30 p.m., members of the group laid a wreath in remembrance of the battle.

"To do this on the anniversary, the date, the same time, the same fields - that's luck to be able to do that," Sandy Andrews said. "It's nice to shoot the guns, but to educate is what it's all about."

"We got to feel a little of what those guys were feeling - the pain in the feet, the thirst," John DeSalis said.

Butch Dell, 40, of Manchester, Md., a member of the re-enactment group, said the cost to restore and frame the First and Seventh Tennessee flags, which are currently on display at the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville, will be roughly $23,000. Through donations, sponsorship of re-enactment events and matching funds pledged by the state of Tennessee, Dell said the group now has enough money to proceed with the restoration project. The group hopes to present a check to the governor of Tennessee sometime next spring.

"We want to be instrumental in the historical aspect of maintaining the flags," Sandy Andrews said.

The flags will be restored by a Sharpsburg-based artisan, then will be returned to the Tennessee State Museum to go back on display.

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