- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 14, 2002

HAGERSTOWN, Md. Rebel yells greeted the first cannon blasts yesterday as 13,000 Civil War buffs gathered to re-create the bloodiest day on U.S. soil the Battle of Antietam.
Joe Ruffo summed up why he drove 250 miles from Lakewood, Ohio, to spend three hot days in the woolen uniform of a 54th Ohio Infantry private: "You get to live it."
Or die it. Robert Holmes of Aiken, S.C., fell shortly after the first shots were fired during a demonstration of artillery, cavalry and infantry techniques.
"I was dead," he said. "The liquor was pouring out all over me."
Part party, part history lesson, the 140th anniversary event is the largest Civil War re-enactment this year and the second-largest ever staged. Organizers expect as many as 70,000 spectators to watch the mock clashes on 1,000 privately owned acres of land 70 miles north of the District and 10 miles from the real battlefield.
Co-chairman Dennis E. Frye, a former National Park Service historian, said the event is intended to teach people about the decisions that led to the Civil War, including the battle beside Antietam Creek on Sept. 17, 1862, which left 23,000 men dead, wounded or missing.
"Our theme is 'Live It, Learn It,' and during this weekend, this is the largest classroom in the United States," Mr. Frye said.
Mr. Ruffo, a 25-year-old construction company owner, is in his third year as a re-enactor, a hobby that can be both physically and financially demanding. His uniform, tent and musket cost $1,000, he said.
Authenticity is the goal, but Mr. Ruffo said he and the other 20 members of his party have modern conveniences such as cots and coolers hidden from view at their campsite on the Union side of the mulch-covered road that divides the re-enactment site.
Mr. Holmes, 60, a private in the Confederacy's Palmetto Battalion, was more of a stickler, at least as far as his uniform went. His gray jacket had U.S. Army buttons and lacked red trim, reflecting the wartime shortage of metal and dye in the South.
Hard-core re-enactors such as Don Harrelson of Virginia Beach shun the official encampments altogether. They sleep under the stars and arrive at the site in ragtag formation just in time for the fighting.
"The big mega-events like this are extremely inauthentic as a rule," said Mr. Harrelson, whose 3rd Georgia Regiment was helping re-create Drayton's Brigade for the weekend.
Mr. Frye said safety rules were tightened this year after a re-enactor at the Battle of Gettysburg re-creation in 1998 loaded a gun with live ammunition and wounded another man in the neck.
Every weapon at Antietam will be inspected and fired before each battle scene, he said.
Civil War scholars increasingly regard Antietam, also sometimes called the Battle of Sharpsburg, as the turning point of the war. Although the Confederates' northern advance ended at Gettysburg, the Union victory at Antietam 10 months earlier persuaded European rulers not to recognize the Confederacy and gave President Abraham Lincoln the political strength to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.


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