Union blue returns to Mount Clare training ground

July 28, 1991|By Robert A. Erlandson

Steve Ashe rose in his stirrups, dug in the spurs on the heels of his knee-high cavalry boots and yelled, "Charge!"

The curved blade of his saber glinted as he extended his right arm, and Knight, his 15-year-old Tennessee walking horse, burst into a gallop as if against a line of Rebel infantry.

The 49-year-old Hampstead clockmaker, uniformed in the blue of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry, was demonstrating Civil War cavalry tactics to a small but interested group of spectators gathered on the lawn of the Mount Clare Mansion, in southwest Baltimore's Carroll Park.

"Always keep the blade edge-up so the saber will pull free as you ride by," he explained.

Under a nearby tree, Jeff Jolbitado of Randallstown, in the colorful, red-decorated blue Turkish-style uniform of the 9th New York Zouaves -- a unit that won fame at the Battle of Antietam -- was drilling a group of soldiers in the use of the bayonet.

The men, re-enactors representing various units, demonstrated how to parry and lunge to impale an enemy on the needle-sharp triangular length of steel at the end of their muskets.

Yesterday's re-enactment, which will be repeated beginning at 10 a.m. today, was of an "instructional camp," a sort of Civil War boot camp. It could be described as "on location," for the Union Army maintained just such a camp at Mount Clare during the war.

The difference between yesterday's performance and most re-enactments was that it was instructional for visitors, who were able to ask questions about uniforms and equipment and soldiers' duties.

Mr. Ashe told the group that during the Civil War the cavalry was used as scouts and flank guards for infantry more than in fighting or dramatic charges.

"Today they use helicopters for the job," he said.

"I didn't know they had a war here, and I used to play ball around here," said Richard Lizer, 28. His aunt, Georganna Tyler, who lives a few blocks from Mount Clare, said, "I only saw it in the movies. I never saw these kinds of clothes before."

Jean Maffioli, a retired federal worker and former Baltimorean who now lives in North Miami Beach, Fla., came north to visit Gertrude Rueter, of Catonsville. When Miss Maffioli saw a notice of the re-enactment in the paper, she "dragged" her friend to see it.

"I'm a Civil War buff. I buy books like mad," said Miss Maffioli, who attends re-enactments all over the country during her travels.

Her inspiration was her grandmother, Miss Maffioli said. "She was 4 when the war started, and she told me about sitting on a bridge in Rockford, Ill., watching the soldiers pass by." And a neighbor owned a table at which President Lincoln dined when he stopped to visit the mayor of Rockford, she said.

Outside a wall tent -- a type that allowed the sides to be raised for air circulation and one of several types of canvas shelter on display -- Walter F. Mathers, 42, of Glen Burnie explained the bureaucratic side of army life, with reproduction examples of enlistment documents, daily personnel reports and officers' day books for a record of each unit.

Mr. Mathers, a railroad brakeman, demonstrated the old battery-powered telegraph that facilitated communications during the Civil War and showed examples of the wig-wag flag codes used in the field, which were changed regularly to prevent enemy interception.

As the authenticity of military re-enactments improves, he said, units communicate in the field using the telegraph and the flag signals.

Civil War re-enactments enjoyed national popularity during the 1960-1965 centennial, before the Revolutionary bicentennial moved center stage. By the late 1970s, interest in the Civil War was renewed, Mr. Mather said.

And re-enacting has become big business. The "let's all have fun" re-enactments of the 1960s gave way to levels of realism and authenticity unknown before, particularly as detailed reproductions of almost everything associated with the period became available.

This has encouraged more penetrating research; scenarios are scripted carefully and depict a selected portion of the event being re-enacted, he said.

Thirty years ago, the "authentics" who wanted to get closer to the original were in the minority, Mr. Mather said; but they persisted, "and they made this hobby what it is today."

"It's an enchanting hobby," he said. "There's a situation for everyone; the young and agile climb trees and fight while the older folks take on the duties older folks would have had during the war."

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