Antietam and the Fall National Skirmish

It would be difficult to imagine a time in my years as a reenactor and skirmisher when any two events captivated my attention more than the 135th Anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Sharpsburg ( or Antietam above the Mason-Dixon Line) on September 13 and 14, followed in less than three weeks by a National Skirmish. Compounding my delight was the absolutely fabulous weather that both events enjoyed.

The Sharpsburg event was an attempt to stage the largest reenactment ever. I don't know if that really happened, but I do know that the length of the three engagements proved that large bodies of troops can actively engage each other for more than 60 minutes. With more than 80 artillery pieces in attendance, we were able to stage some awesome displays, especially in the morning "Cornfield" scenario on Sunday. Starting at about 0530 Hrs, we began a barrage that lasted nearly 30 minutes, with our firing extending throughout the two-hour engagement. My battery, the Chesapeake Artillery, was posted on the north side of the entrance road with four other guns of the 1st Virginia Artillery Battalion. When the firing began, we could not even see the other guns nearby. We picked flashes on the far ridge as our aim point, much as the original combatants would have done in 1862. As the dark lifted with the coming of the day, the participants were amazed at the number of spectators who rimmed the area. Thousands of people of all ages had driven to the site, arriving as early as 0300 Hrs, to witness the spectacle of cloaked combat.

The reenactment was managed by the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites (APCWS), a group who has done much to acquire threatened historically significant properties. No one can question their ability to raise money and procure threatened real estate. However, managing such a huge endeavor may have been taxing the limits of their abilities. I know when I arrived at the scene, no one who was directing traffic or sitting behind registration tables knew where anything was. It took me two hours to drive up from Southern Maryland, and another hour to locate the Confederate Artillery Camp. I heard similar complaints from others in attendance. The registration tent for participants was in another time zone, another inconvenience. However, the total experience of the event was a great one, and I have not talked to any one who was there that doesn't agree that, in spite of the shortcomings, it was an excellent event. The location of the event was also ideal, with a lot of natural amphitheater seating available for spectators.

A lot of attendees voiced the opinion that they hoped that the two events usually held in Gettysburg would be merged for the 135th Anniversary of Gettysburg next summer, however, recent discussions between the parties have not proved fruitful, and it appears that there will be two events again in 1997 at this date. Both events are class acts, and bigger isn't always better.

Three weeks after Sharpsburg, I found myself once again on the banks of Ol' Back Creek at the 96th National Skirmish near Winchester, VA. I was able to post a couple Individual scores on Friday, and Saturday helped our Carbine Team record our best National Time ever. It was pretty hairy for a while, because we started out in 5th place after the 100 yard event and jumped up to 4th place after the pigeon-board. We quickly came to our senses in that rarified territory, and ended up in 14th place in our Classification, a pleasing outcome indeed.

I got to check out the Armi-Sport rifled .69 musket, which has the look and feel of a musket that is going to become a reenactor's favorite. And, they are just the thing for those pesky stake events at skirmishes. I'm still checking on the availability of barrels for those of us who have the smoothbore version. And, speaking of smoothbores, Knapp's Battery's Jim Brady captured the N-SSA 50-yard smoothbore prize again. This photo shows Jim with his target from the 95th National in May, an 89. He shot 90 this time, and posted a 92 at the Mason-Dixon in June. I know because I scored the target at the Mason-Dixon. What the record doesn't show is what an absolutely great skirmisher Jim is. At the Mason-Dixon this year, after posting his score with his original Model 1842 Harpers Ferry smoothbore musket, Jim let fellow competitors use his weapon and loads to try and beat him! Now that, skirmishing fans, is sportsmanship. Congratulations go to Jim, along with wishes for continued success.

Another new addition to the approved arms list of the N-SSA is the Romano Arms Co.'s 2nd Model Maynard Carbine, which I observed at Larry Gollahon's booth in the Sutler Village. The barrel is exquisite, and the attention to detail in the finishing of the metal parts is dynamic. The action and top and bottom tangs are all case-hardened. Larry Romano makes the Spencer reproductions currently available, and this Maynard is a beauty, too. The price right now is $1195, and I have to believe it is worth it. If you want or need a Maynard repro to reenact or skirmish with, you should contact Larry Gollahon at his shop in Alexandria, KY at 606- 635-1915. A deposit of $500 will put you on the list to receive one of these really well made reproductions. Katy will probably buy Jay one, so why not get one, too.

Larry also sells plastic tubes for Maynard carbines, which I got to try out at the National. They functioned easily in the action of my Harpers Ferry Arms Maynard, and cost one-fourth of what the brass cartridges do. Contact Larry if you want to try the plastic Maynard cases out.

One of my ol' pards from the 21st Georgia stopped by our camp at the National, and really was enjoying himself. If you have an interest in the Civil War, you need to make an annual pilgrimage to Ft. Shenandoah. Try it, you'll like it. Cedar Creek is on the horizon, and will have passed before you read this. The 1998 Season is just around the corner. I hope to see a lot of you at the Remembrance Day Parade in Gettysburg.

The 27th Virginia Infantry won the Smoothbore Class of the Artillery Match with an orginial 6-pound smoothbore. This photo shows the team during their match. Until the next time, shoot safe and have fun.

(c) 1997 by Tom Kelley
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