More than 4,000 re-enactors commemorate battles of South Mountain and Antietam

September 08, 2012|By DON AINES |
  • Union officer leads his troops Saturday during battle with Rebel forces at "Maryland, My Maryland" Civil War re-enactment in Boonsboro.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

BOONSBORO, Md. — The thunder of cannons and muskets had some competition from the real thing Saturday, but following an afternoon downpour, Union and Confederate forces squared off in a re-enactment of the Battle of Fox’s Gap.

More than 4,000 re-enactors took to the field at Boonsboro Town Farm for “Maryland, My Maryland,” a commemoration of the battles of South Mountain and Antietam 150 years ago.

Spectators got to see the sights, sounds and smells of 19th-century warfare. Ranks of soldiers disappeared behind a fog of gray, sulfurous gunsmoke with each volley, and artillery pieces belched clouds of smoke and ear-splitting reports.

It would be hard to imagine a scene where more than 100,000 troops faced each other as they did at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, but visitors still found Saturday’s sight impressive.

“This is very good. Very good indeed,” said Michael Gillham of Peterborough, England. He was there with his wife, Jill, his brother, Steve, and Steve’s wife, Pippa.

“We had a civil war and wanted to see how yours compared to ours,” Steve said.

Their war was between the Parliamentarian Roundheads and the Royalist Cavaliers. The Gillhams noted that Great Britain has its own re-enactors, a group known as The Sealed Knot, which stages battles from their civil war, the War of the Roses and other conflicts.

The Gillhams invade the United States each year to see a different part of the country.

“This time, we come in peace,” Michael Gillham said.

While the Gillhams were spectators, some foreigners came for the fight.

“We have participants from all over the world,” including two who came from Australia, event manager Douglas Dobbs said. There were re-enactors from Germany, France and England as well as from across the United States, he said.

In all, the number exceeded 4,900, including those in period civilian garb, Dobbs said.

Many of the re-enactors were to spend the night in tents, but Thomas B. Riford, president and chief executive officer of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said their families and other visitors were filling up the county’s hotel rooms. Many hotels are sold out for the next two weeks for events at Antietam on Sept. 15-16 and the Wings and Wheels Airshow the weekend of Sept. 22-23, he said.

“Maryland, My Maryland” also drew three documentary film crews, including one contracted by the Smithsonian Institution, Riford said.

Yankees and Rebels will take the field again Sunday, this time for a re-creation of a noon re-enactment of the Battle of Antietam.

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