In the autumn of 1862, Gen. Robert E. Lee was on the move.
“We cannot afford to be idle,” he wrote, and pointed his Southern Army north toward Maryland.
Numbering 50,000 — not 120,000 as the enemy believed — they were, said one observer, “the dirtiest men I ever saw, a most ragged, lean and hungry set of wolves.”
Gambling against time, Lee divided his force, sending some to knock out Harpers Ferry, still then in Virginia, while he sparred with Gen. George McClellan at South Mountain.
Battle lines eventually were drawn along Antietam Creek, which snaked past the hamlet of Sharpsburg.
Here, in the misty dawn of Sept. 17, Union artillery crashed into a cornfield where Rebels crouched.
The field was lost and recovered again and again, said a survivor, “until the green corn that grew upon it looked as if it has been struck by a storm of bloody hail.”
Fighting continued down a sunken road now called Bloody Lane, and across a stone span remembered today as Burnside Bridge.
“The sun seemed almost to go backwards,” a rebel soldier recalled, “and it appeared as if night would never come.”
When it did, more than 23,000 soldiers lay wounded or dead.
The American Civil War was fought in 10,000 places — from Valverde, N.M., to St. Albans, Vt. Men who had never strayed 20 miles from their own front door found themselves soldiers in great armies fighting epic battles hundreds of miles from home. And none, historians believe, was more epic than Antietam.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of events that changed the United States. To commemorate one of the most defining periods in American history, three counties in the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area will be observing the 150th anniversary over a three-year period.
Washington County Museum of Fine Arts will lead the charge with a First Call Weekend, focusing on the Maryland Campaign of 1862.
Opening ceremonies for First Call Weekend will take place in the museum’s gardens at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 16. City Park will play host to re-enactors, demonstrations, exhibits and discussions Saturday and Sunday, June 17. The event is coordinated and sponsored by the City of Hagerstown and the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Named after the buglers’ first call for soldiers to assemble, the First Call Weekend is designed to give the public a better understanding of the role Washington County played in one of the most pivotal chapters in American history, said Todd Bolton, who heads the HCWHA sesquicentennial steering committee.
“Through music, living history, family and youth activities and much more, the weekend will provide an enjoyable and educational experience for all,” he noted.
A prelude to the weekend will be a Civil War Ball, hosted by the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts from 7 to 11 p.m. Friday, June 15, under the stars in the Kaylor Atrium.
Music will be provided by the Second South Carolina String Band, a popular Civil War camp band that performs on authentic 19th century instruments. The band worked with filmmaker Ken Burns to provide period music for documentaries and also was selected by director Ron Maxwell to provide background instrumental music for the soundtrack of the movie “Gods and Generals.”
Persons attending the ball are invited to come in costume or attend as a spectator. Punch and refreshments reminiscent of the Civil War era will be served.
The ball also will serve as a reception for “Valley of the Shadow,” an extensive exhibition that brings together works of art, musical instruments, weaponry and clothing — all designed to tell the stories of war. The exhibition’s title is taken from a verse in the 23rd Psalm.
The exhibit runs from Saturday, June 16, to Saturday, July 28, 2013.
Rebecca Massie Lane, museum director, said “trustees, staff and volunteers wanted to support the commemoration, just as we did for the 100th and 140th anniversaries.”
With the museum’s location, she said, participation in First Call Weekend seemed only natural.
“The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts first opened its doors on the eve of the 69th anniversary of The Battle of Antietam on Sept. 16, 1931,” she said. “(The museum) is located 12 miles north of Antietam Battlefield and 35 miles southwest of Gettysburg (Pa.) on the historic North-South road that was used throughout the war. Also, Hagerstown and the ground, which later became Hagerstown City Park, were involved in Union and Confederate troop movements for both battles.”
Massie Lane said the museum presented two smaller exhibitions in the past four years — one in 2009 in association with the anniversary of John Brown’s raid, and one a year later.
“Both were precursors to this large exhibition,” she said. “We’ve been working in a very focused way for 24 months.”
The exhibition fills Groh Gallery, the largest gallery in the museum, and the South and West corridor cases, Massie Lane said. Items on view will interpret the themes of combat, military life, Civil War medicine, commemoration, African-American history, women’s and children’s history and everyday life during the war, including art, music and literature.
“Each object tells a story,” she said. “And many have been passed on through families and are linked conclusively to particular people of the era. Others bear an oral tradition, also passed down from collector to collector. Items that are linked to persons not known by descendant family have been identified through the efforts of devoted researchers and are told here.”
First Call Weekend Schedule
Friday June 15
• 7 to 11 p.m., Civil War Ball, Washington County Museum of Fine arts. Featuring 2nd South Carolina String Band and “Valley of the Shadow” exhibit preview. $40 per person; $30 for members and living history interpreters registered for First Call Weekend. Tickets sold in advance and at the door.
Saturday, June 16
Note: Music stage is located between Key Street and the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.
• 10 a.m. First Call opening ceremonies in Washington County Museum of Fine Arts gardens. Official grand opening of “Valley of the Shadow” exhibit in museum.
• 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Exhibit area open, living history, re-enactors, exhibits and displays, book signings, throughout City Park
• 11 a.m. Confederate demonstrations, City Park
• 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Orations, poetry, Civil War author book signings and discussions, Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
• 11 a.m. to noon, Rohrersville Band, music stage, City Park
• Noon to 1 p.m. New Horizon Band, music stage,, City Park
• 1 p.m. Civil War-era baseball game, City Park softball field near the Mansion House
• 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Second South Carolina String Band, music stage, City Park
• 2 p.m. tactical demonstrations, City Park
• 3 to 4 p.m. Magpie, music stage, City Park
• 4 p.m. Union demonstrations, City Park
• 8 to 10 p.m. candelight tours, City Park
Sunday, June 17
• 9 a.m. Tour of Rose Hill Cemetery, off South Potomac with historian Steve Bockmiller
• 10 a.m. nondenominational church service, City Park
• 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Second South Carolina String Band, music stage, City Park
• 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. exhibition area opens, living history and re-enactors
• Noon to 1 p.m. Magpie, music stage, City Park
• 1 to 2 p.m. Jennie Avila, music stage, City Park
• 1 p.m. tactical demonstrations
• 1 to 3 p.m. Civil War book signings, Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
For more information, call 301-791-3246.
For a complete listing of Civil War sesquicentennial events, visit www.marylandmemories.org and www.marylandmemories.org/civil-war-weekend.