Civil War games start with a bang Heat doesn't stop battle re-enactors from rendezvous on river bank

June 20, 1993|By Nancy Menefee Jackson | Nancy Menefee Jackson,Contributing Writer

They worried about the Union soldiers encamped just over the hill, but the Confederates first had to battle ants, earwigs and, most of all, the 95-degree heat.

Company D of the 2nd Maryland Infantry fought yesterday on the rolling fields of Steppingstone Museum along the banks of the Susquehanna River, and their re-enactment continues today with drills, a cavalry demonstration and a chance once again to change the outcome of the war that still fascinates so many.

Members of the company arrived at Steppingstone Friday night and set up a camp that is an authentic replica of Civil War camps. They live as if they were in the 1860s, cooking over open fires using 19th-century recipes and dressing in period clothing. They forgo the modern conveniences of cold Coke, air-conditioning and screens.

Although no actual battles were fought at Steppingstone, its split rail fences and rock walls provide an appropriate backdrop for the white cotton A-frame tents dotting the hillside. The company is involved in such demonstrations about twice a month up and down the Eastern seaboard, with events ranging from parades to re-enactments to a stint filming the movie "Killer Angels," scheduled for release next year.

Sometimes the Civil War buffs replay exact battles, but this weekend's skirmishes are not scripted, and conditions seem to favor the Confederates, who outnumber the Union forces.

When Lt. Col. Ken Obenland, Confederate commander, explains how he was shot off a horse, knocked unconscious, came to and grabbed the reins of a loose Union horse, the crowd nods, completely caught up in the 130-year-old moment.

Says Geraldine Fitch, a secretary for a computer and office supply company who becomes a weekend Confederate nurse and spy: "Sometimes on Monday morning when I go back to work my mind doesn't always go back right away."

That chance to experience history is what draws participants and spectators alike.

"I have a love of history, and this is the closest I can come to living it," says Mr. Obenland, a lineman for the Potomac Gas & Electric Co. He has been involved in re-enactments for 14 years and pays for all of his equipment, including the quarter horse he rides into battles.

"I like educating the public, and this gives me time to ride and I'm learning constantly," he says.

All of the period clothes are replicas, as are the weapons, tack and gear. Company members do reading and research to find out details about their particular regiment.

Mr. Cibrian and his wife, Michelle, members of the 1st Georgia Irish Jasper Green unit, drink coffee made from peanuts because the real unit ran short of coffee and turned to the peanut.

The re-enactments become family outings. Mrs. Fitch says that once a year, the group throws a formal historic ball with a chance to dress up in gowns that she says make it "makes it all worth it."

The re-enactment continues today, with muster formation and weapons inspection at noon, drills at 1 p.m., cavalry and signal demonstrations at 2 p.m., a firing demonstration at 2:45 p.m. and the main battle at 3:30 p.m.

The military camps are open to visitors from noon until 5 p.m., except during the main battle. Admission is $2 for adults, and children under 12 are free. For more information, contact the Steppingstone Museum at 939-2299.

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