It was, mercifully, only the illusion of battle that unfolded on a 400-acre cattle and pig farm north of here Saturday. And it was “fought” only in remembrance of the monumental clash — the real Battle of Antietam that happened here 150 years ago Monday.
The sprawling morning reenactment, which simulated only part of the actual battle, was one of the opening weekend events held around the historic site to mark the sesquicentennial of the Civil War’s bloodiest one-day battle.
The Sept. 17, 1862, clash, also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg, left 23,000 soldiers from both sides killed, wounded or missing — much higher than the toll of Americans during the World War II D-Day landings in Normandy.
By one account, as many as 6,500 men, including three generals on each side, were killed or mortally wounded here.
The battle, 17 months into the war, is generally considered a tactical draw but a strategic victory for the Union. The Confederates had crossed into Maryland seeking to gain foreign recognition and new recruits and to influence upcoming Northern elections.
But the roughly 40,000-man Southern army was pummeled by about 86,000 Federals. The Rebels, having gained few recruits and no major foreign recognition, retreated back across the Potomac River. The battle along Antietam Creek gave President Abraham Lincoln enough good news to issue his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which declared millions of Southern slaves free as of Jan. 1, 1863.
Over the weekend, hundreds of reenactors, many on horseback or hauling copies of Civil War artillery pieces behind pickups, gathered at the farm about three miles north of the historic battlefield amid the hilly farmland west of Frederick.
Many parked their cars, donned period clothing and eagerly left behind the turbulence of the 21st century for that of the 19th.
They pitched tents in tracts of blue chicory, purple clover and the occasional cow chip. They cooked bacon on open fires and drank coffee from metal cups.
Then, as the morning sun filled the valley, menfolk shouldered their weapons, fell in and — to the sound of the fife and drum and the call of the bugle — marched off to the battle.
As the boys in Yankee blue or Confederate gray came tramping down the dirt paths, their feet raised clouds of dust. And the men and their muskets cast eerie shadows on the ground as they marched past, just as they must have long ago.
The morning clash reprised the savage fighting that occurred in 1862 around a tiny, white-washed house of worship called the Dunker Church, named for its full-
immersion Baptist congregants.
A white wooden copy of the church, with a door and windows painted in, was erected on a hill on the reenactment area for effect. (Another part of the battle was simulated Saturday afternoon.)