Re-enactors relive Battle of Antietam with bone-jarring intensity

September 16, 2012|By DAVE McMILLION |
  • Union army re-enactors move before retreating back over Burnside Bridge Sunday afternoon at Antietam National Battlefield.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

FAIRPLAY — The re-enactment portraying the battle at Burnside Bridge was held at 2 p.m. and cavalry skirmishes were featured at 11 a.m.

The cavalry skirmishes were not scripted, so re-enactors were allowed to react to each other however they wanted.

Pangburn weaved stories into his narration as battles played out on the field. He talked about how horses learned to understand horns used on the battlefield to instruct soldiers on troop movements and how cavalry forces would not stay in one area very long because horses needed new areas with additional sources of food.

Horses died in the conflict too, but often soldiers did not bury them because they were too busy burying comrades, Pangburn said.

“They simply piled the horses up, set them on fire and burned them,” Pangburn said.

Pangburn said cavalry forces often were teased by other soldiers, who said the horse-riding fighters had easier duty.


“We worked every day,” said one cavalry soldier as he rode his horse past spectators in bleachers, drawing laughs from the crowd.

The man then held his sword high in the air as he sat on his horse, giving photographers a chance to snap his image.

Fascination with war, re-enactments

In between battle re-creations, spectators moved among vendors selling Civil War-era merchandise. The vendor area stretched up a hillside, and beyond that was where the re-enactors were camped.

Spectators roamed among the sea of white tents, taking photographs of re-enactors firing rifles, playing music and preparing for battle.

Among the re-enactors was Steven Ashe of DeLand, Fla., who said he participates in about a dozen re-enactments a year and has been doing it for 35 years.

Ashe said he became fascinated with the war after hearing his grandmother tell stories about it.

Ashe’s grandmother’s parents had a farm in Urbana, Md., and there were stories of stragglers from the war stealing cattle from the farm, Ashe said.

“They would kill and slaughter a pig right in (your) front yard,” said Ashe, explaining that there was one reason why they usually got away with it.

“They had the guns,” Ashe said.

When Union re-enactors started preparing for the re-creation of the battle at Burnside Bridge, they approached the battleground on a dry, dusty lane. It lent plenty of realism as men muscled teams of horses pulling gear over rocky sections of the road. The wheels of the wagons banged on the rocks, and chains on the horses clanged together as they made their way through a dusty scene.

Spectators gathered to snap photographs of the action.

Peter Gabrielli of Rockville, Md., was headed toward the battlefield before the 2 p.m. re-enactment when he stopped to talk about his interest in the Civil War. Gabrielli said he has been watching Civil War re-enactments for 40 years and lives for magical moments, like when soldiers appeared out of dense fog from one re-enactment he saw.

Gabrielli said he had just returned from the area where re-enactors were camped.

“It’s very interesting, especially talking to the people back in the tents. It’s about as close to history as you can get,” Gabrielli said.

The event has been a shot in the arm to the local tourism industry, according to Tom Riford, president and chief executive officer of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Of the 46 lodging establishments in the county, including campgrounds, bed and breakfast inns, hotels and motels, all but 12 sold out of all the space they had, Riford said.

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