Witnessing a Civil War Battle

Jul 13 2009

On Saturday, I interrupted a wonderfully productive morning to drove up to Frederick, Maryland. Clouds moved in to shelter an otherwise perfect day. I pulled in to Rose Hill Manor, parked my car in the big field, and ran towards the other side of the property, camera in hand.

“Rebels in the cornfield!” The cry came up around me. Men dressed in Union uniform ran up to the lone cannon, some passing it to take up positions around an ancient oak tree at the bottom of the hill. I heard the crack of rifle fire and saw occasional flashes of grey passing through the corn.

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Then the cannon fired, and I jumped. Not quite literally defeaning, it was nonetheless a shock every time it thundered. And still the rebels came, materializing out of the cornfield and leveling their rifles at us.

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It was a re-enactment, obviously. It suffered from a few problems. Because there were only a few dozen re-enactors, only a few “died,” despite the lines moving to within fifty yards of each other. Moreover, the re-enactors were having too good of a time to look scared or ferocious; many of them cracked easy smiles as they marched towards the rifles of their enemies.

But that added a relaxed atmosphere to the event. We all know the horror of that war; we could easily imagine the soldiers’ pain and terror. These were computer programmers and auto mechanics, dressing up and playing soldier for the afternoon.

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The entire grounds had been converted into a Civil War-era bivouac. Dozens of tents spotted the fields, most of them complete with low fires, kettles, lanterns, the vital bottles of whisky, and other accoutrements of the time. Quite a few non-soldiers wandered about wearing costumes of the era—how women didn’t sweat every drop of water out of their bodies in an hour fails me—and they were all more than happy to regale you with stories and facts of the period.

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It felt like a convention (then again, I have cons on the brain this summer). Vendors were selling food, books, fake rifles, real Civil War bullets, belt buckles, hats; just about anything one could imagine. A folk singer sang songs of the era. And all of this was occurring on the grounds of a beautiful manor house, with the flowers in full bloom.

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What better way to spend a summer afternoon?

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