SHARPSBURG ¿ — It was just a few days before Confederate and Union forces would converge on the Antietam battlefield.
The people near Sharpsburg could hear sounds of the battle going on at South Mountain in nearby Boonsboro. The war was close to their homes. What should they do?
It is the mindset of those civilians that living historians will examine at the Antietam National Battlefield’s Before the Storm program, scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 11, and Sunday, Aug. 12.
The battle that erupted on those previously quiet farmlands made Sharpsburg the site of the bloodiest single day of battle in U.S. history, with about 23,000 casualties.
Christy Tew, park ranger in the education and volunteers branch, said at least 25 living historians in five groups will present the stories of the people who lived on the farms that would become the Antietam battlefield.
This is the second year the park service is organizing the program, which is aimed at visitors of all ages. The program proceeds the annual anniversary commemoration of the Sept. 17, 1862, battle. The park service is also planning a program in October to examine the aftermath of the battle.
During Before the Storm, visitors will be able to gather in a church service at the Dunker Church, where a similar service took place Sept. 14, 1862.
“The church became a focal point during the fighting, and after the battle it was used as an aid station, and it’s one of the places people associate with the Battle of Antietam,” Tew said.
Historical accounts confirm a service was held there on that day, but they don’t describe the contents of the service. A minister who has researched historical church services will be presiding over the service.
The church was taken down at one point in its history and was the site of a filling station, but the National Park Service found the original building materials in storage. The park service rebuilt it in 1962.
Another interactive activity will be telling the story of those families who decided to flee their homes. Visitors will be able to look at a variety of 19th-century household items and choose what they would bring if they were fleeing before the battle, Tew said.
The majority of civilians did leave the area as armies approached. When they returned, their food was gone, their animals taken, their property damaged. One farm was totally destroyed — the Mumma farm, where neighbors had assembled the day of the South Mountain battle to share a meal, Tew said.
That meal will be one of the activities re-enacted by living historians during Before the Storm.
The program will also touch on the lives of slaves who lived on the farms that would become the battlefield.
Additionally, re-enactors will load and fire cannons and muskets and talk about what was happening at the Battle of South Mountain a few miles to the east of Sharpsburg.
South Mountain was the first major Civil War battle to take place in Maryland, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Both battles were among the events that prompted to President Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.
If you go ...
WHAT: Before the Storm living history program tells the story of civilian life leading up to the Battle of Antietam
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 12
WHERE: Antietam National Battlefield visitor’s center, 5831 Dunker Church Road, Sharpsburg
COST: Park admission fee is $6 per vehicle or $4 per person. Children ages 15 and younger are admitted free
CONTACT: Call 301-432-5124 or www.nps.gov/ancm
MORE: A complete schedule of events for the Before the Storm weekend will be posted on the Antietam National Battlefield website, www.nps.gov/ancm.