Civil War re-enactors wage an unscripted conflict Offer Taneytown battle that might have been

August 23, 1998|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Civil War re-enactors from the Army of Northern Virginia faced the federal Army of the Shenandoah yesterday to fight the Battle of Taneytown.

Actually, there never was a Battle of Taneytown. The battle that might have been was fought instead at Gettysburg, Pa., 19.7 miles up the road from the northwest Carroll County community.

But what's a Civil War festival without a battle?

"We'll fight the battle that should have been," Jerry Holden, a Carroll County re-enactor taking part in the combat staged for the third annual Celebrate Taneytown festival, said last week.

If there had been a Battle of Taneytown, this is how it might have gone, judging by yesterday's event:

On an August day, under a grueling sun with only the slightest breeze, about 300 spectators stood on a slight rise and watched the Union army march in from the north and take a position on higher ground at the east end of a recently mowed field. The Confederate army marched in and lined up on the west end of the field, where sharpshooters had the protection of trees and brush.

The Union artillery lobbed round after round of cannon fire into the Confederate line, answered infrequently by the outgunned rebels.

The Confederate cavalry charged the cannons, but the Union line held.

Women hauled buckets of water to the men manning the cannons and to field surgeon Tom Evarts of Rochester, N.Y., a former Vietnam medic portraying a triage surgeon.

"I just try to stop the bleeding and put them back in service," he said.

After about an hour of fighting, Confederate sharpshooters began firing from the woods and Mosby's Rangers -- with Holden in his regular role as the group's second in command, Lt. Col. William Chapman -- charged the Union infantry, only to be mowed down.

Soon, a lone bugler played taps over the field as the Confederates retreated with their wounded.

"We couldn't draw them down into the field. They didn't want to fight. When that happens, you've got to push the fight to them," said West Virginian Robert Pratt, portraying a fictional major general in command of the Confederate Valley Division.

Pratt, a 13-year veteran of re-enactments, said he sees no difference between creating a battle, as in Taneytown, and following a known scenario -- a Gettysburg or Antietam.

"I've been doing it so long, I feel what the Union army is going to do, and generally I can beat them," he said. "We let them win every once in a while so we have someone to play with."

His opposite number, Pennsylvanian Bill Jones Sr., said he enjoys a battle like Taneytown's, where the outcome isn't predetermined. He, like Pratt, uses his own name rather than portray a historic Civil War officer.

Gettysburg "is a scripted battle. They follow what happened. It's fun for the spectators, but the re-enactors know how it's going to come out. This one, we don't know how it's going to come out," Jones said.

Confederate re-enactor Kendra Metz of Martinsburg, W.Va., is a living reminder of the role women played in the war.

She portrays a vivandiere, a sutler who traveled with the unit, fought beside the men and carried whiskey onto the field to give to the wounded.

Organizers of some Civil War re-enactments, such as at Gettysburg, still won't let her on the field despite research that verifies her role, Metz said. She is researching the role of women in the Civil War in studies for a master's degree from West Virginia University.

"Every time I go out on the field, it's like they're all behind me saying, 'Don't let them forget us,' " Metz said.

Jones said Taneytown "could easily have been Gettysburg," if Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee had turned his army south.

In late June 1863, Union commander Gen. George G. Meade had stretched his army along Pipe Creek between Keymar and Manchester. Had Lee chosen to meet him there, Meade's thin line might have broken, allowing the Confederates to come between the Union army and its supply lines from Baltimore and Washington.

Historians say Pipe Creek could have been a disaster for Meade. But Lee chose Gettysburg, and Meade moved his army to meet the Confederates there.

The rest is history.

Pub Date: 8/23/98

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