Fire on the Mountain recalls 'forgotten battle'

June 20, 2009|By MARIE GILBERT

BOONSBORO -- A veil of drizzle and fog crept over Reno Monument Road south of Boonsboro early Saturday morning, almost shrouding a double file of infantrymen who seemed to materialize from the mists.

Dressed in rain-soaked wool trousers and battered slouch hats, they made a path to an open field, joining other comrades who were huddled over a few embers that had smoked through the night.

These weren't spirits or figments of the imagination. Instead, they were Civil War re-enactors who had traded in their T-shirts and jeans for a weekend of living in the past.

In real life, the soldiers are teachers, salesmen and suburban fathers. But for a short while, the 21st century dissolves and they are inhabiting another time, another America.


About 100 re-enactors are gathering at South Mountain State Battlefield this weekend for Fire on the Mountain, an annual living history event that features infantry and artillery demonstrations, tactical scenarios, tours and presentations.

"It's an opportunity for the public to come out and learn about the Battle of South Mountain and the Civil War, in general," said Robert Bailey, a park ranger with the South Mountain Recreation Area.

The Battle of South Mountain was fought Sept. 14, 1862, and a re-enactment will take place this fall to mark the anniversary, Bailey said.

This weekend's event is a way to help introduce people to the opening phases of the battle and how it was fought.

Bailey said South Mountain often is referred to as "the forgotten battle" of the Maryland campaign in the Civil War, overshadowed by the bloody fight at Antietam three days later.

But the Battle of South Mountain is significant in several ways, he said. It was a tactical victory for Union Gen. George B. McClellan because the Union army forced Confederate troops to retreat.

But South Mountain was a strategic victory for Gen. Robert E. Lee as his Confederate forces largely were able to escape and buy time for Gen. Stonewall Jackson to capture the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry, a gun-manufacturing center then in the state of Virginia.

Among the re-enactors participating in this weekend's living history program is Dave Jurgella of Myersville, Md., who also is a ranger with the Maryland State Park Service.

Jurgella is a private with the Baltimore Light Artillery, which provides living history programs for state and national parks.

"I became interested as a kid in the 1950s, watching John Wayne movies," he said. "But I lived in central Wisconsin and there were no Gettysburg or Antietam battlefields nearby. When I was 21, I made a trip to this area and I've been hooked ever since."

Jurgella, 63, said he has served as a technical adviser for several Civil War movies, including "Glory," and also shoots in competitions with ball ammunition with the 1st Maryland Infantry.

"I've been doing this for about 40 years," he said. "Somehow, I've made a career out of it."

Fire on the Mountain continues today at 9 a.m. There is no admission fee.

If you go

What: Fire on the Mountain

When: Today, 9 a.m.

Where: South Mountain State Battlefield, Reno Monument Road, south of Boonsboro

Admission: Free

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