When Confederate Gen. Jubal A. Early marched his troops through Rockville in an attempt to storm Washington in mid-July 1864, the temperature was unbearably hot.
Last weekend, 119 years later, the mercury soared once again in Rockville, making the second Civil War encampment there uncomfortably realistic.
Despite the heat, about 1,200 spectators visited the grounds of the Beall-Dawson House over the weekend to observe 200 Civil War buffs reenact what happened in Rockville during the last summer of the Civil War.
At that time, both Confederate and Union troops were in the vicinity of the city. As Early's men headed southeast toward Washington, and again later, as they were pushed back through Rockville, they ran into Union soldiers and fighting broke out in the area.
Last weekend's events, sponsored by the Montgomery County Historical Society and the Montgomery County Civil War Round Table, showed how soldiers would have set up their camps and fought their battles.
One observer, 16-year-old Charles Lauret of Rockville, spent Saturday morning exploring the grounds. The Union camp was set up to the east of the Beall-Dawson House; the Confederate camp to the west.
Lauret lingered around the Union camp where Yankee soldiers dressed in blue wool uniforms sat or stood near small canvas tents and open fires. Some smoked pipes, while others talked and cleaned their muskets.
"I've been into the Civil War since eighth grade," Lauret said. His dream is to participate in a Civil War reenactment himself one day, and he is planning now how to save money to buy the authentic equipment so admired at these functions.
Lauret's 12-year old brother, Craig, said all he and his brother ever think about is the Civil War. "When Charles was studying about the war," he said, "it sounded so . . . exciting."
John Eddy, a 32-year old mechanical engineer from Marshall Hall, said he tries to go to 20 or 30 Civil War reenactments a year. This can mean traveling anywhere from Canada to Florida.
On Saturday morning, Eddy sat eating chicken beneath a tent on the Union side.
"My great-great-grandfather was the winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor," he said. Eddy's ancestor fought in the Battle of Sayler's Creek on the northern side, which is why Eddy prefers to play the role of a Yankee at the reenactments.
Tom Williams sat down the hill. A 30-year old firefighter from Wheaton, he brought his horse to Rockville to play a Union cavalryman. Williams said reenacting the life of a soldier gives him a better understanding of military history during the period, "but primarily it's fun."
The fun that last weekend's participants and spectators were having, however, was in sharp contrast to the horror of the war, in which almost 500,000 Americans died on both sides. But Jack Wood, a member of the Civil War Round Table and a coordinator for the weekend, said knowledge and understanding of the Civil War is important for Americans to have. "It's our war," he said. "And it's a deadly war."
On Saturday, spectators followed soldiers down to Bullard Field in the afternoon to watch a battle between the Confederate and Union troops. As the Yankees started to cross the field, Rebel soldiers suddenly emerged from the other side of the field and began firing blanks and black powder at them. The Yanks returned fire.
After about 30 minutes of advancing and retreating on both sides, the Confederates "won" the battle leaving a number of "dead" and "wounded" lying on the field under a hot sun.
This heat proved too much for Kenny Hughes and Chris Groves. As soon as the battle ended, the two Confederates ran off to take a dip in a public pool and retire to their truck with a case of cold beer.
Ben Benoski, on the other hand, felt no need to escape the sun; he was enjoying himself where he was. Although last weekend, Benoski played a Confederate, he said he is almost as happy when he plays a Yankee.
Either way, he smiled, a reenactment is a "male macho trip."