Re-enactors offer glimpse of Antietam

August 15, 2009|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

SHARPSBURG -- Kendall Mattern stood on the battlefield in front of snake-rail fence Saturday, surrounded by a group of sightseers.

Though the sun shone hot and unrelenting, Mattern, 58, of Philadelphia, wore the scratchy wool of a Confederate soldier's uniform.

Perched just up the hill from Sunken Road, Mattern told the crowd about the plight of the 6th Alabama Infantry during the Battle of Antietam. The infantry was ordered to Sunken Hill, a low-sitting farm lane, knowing Union soldiers would attack from two directions. It happened on that very land on Sept. 17, 1862. Ultimately, the road would become known as Bloody Lane.

Mattern read the dramatic readings of Confederate Col. John Brown Gordon, who penned detailed memoirs of the events.

"My rifles flamed and roared in the federals' faces like a blinding blaze of lightning accompanied by the quick and deadly thunderbolt. The effect was appalling," Mattern read from Gordon's journals.


In between readings, about 80 living history volunteers from states across the country -- Colorado, Ohio, Vermont and most southern states among them -- stood down on Sunken Road, portraying the events.

Jerry Stiles, 38, of Clarks Summit, Pa., led the group in a firing demonstration that rang across the fields. Stiles, a member of the Hedgesville Blues, said the living history group was comprised of volunteers from a number of different organizations.

"We just want to let people know of the struggle that took place here. We try to personalize it a little bit," Stiles said. "People visit this park from all over the world, and we want to let them know that the people who fought were not nameless. These people had lives and families."

Mattern, a teacher, said the living history volunteers come from all walks of life and conduct extensive research about the Civil War.

"We read and study and interpret firsthand accounts of participants and of historians today," he said.

Christie Stanczak, living history coordinator of Antietam National Battlefield, said living history events tend to draw the attention of a lot of people.

Mannie Gentile, interpretive park ranger, said he expected about 300 people to visit this weekend's living history demonstrations and encampments.

"People like pageantry," he said. "And this group is unusually large."

Gentile said he believes people who attend the living history event gain some sense of appreciation for "simply how uncomfortable combat" was.

"People comment on the hot, scratchy uniforms, the heavy equipment," he said. "It gives them a small glimpse of the hardship of fighting in the Civil War."

Throughout the demonstration, other living history volunteers shared information about soldiers' pastimes, uniforms and equipment.

Joanne Burke of Vienna, Va., visited the battlefield and observed the demonstrations with her husband, Tom, and her daughters, Emily, 12, and Olivia, 10. Burke said she was impressed by the passion of the living history volunteers, and the event gave her family a stronger sense of what happened in the past.

"We can't even fathom it," Burke said. "You can read it, or you can go see movies, but this makes it more real, more like real life."

If you go

What: 2nd North Carolina living history encampment, firing demonstrations and tours

When: Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Antietam National Battlefield and Visitor Center

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