Many folks have asked me; “Why do you reenact something that happened so long ago?” That is a simple question for two reasons. Unless we acknowledge the past, we are bound to repeat the same. We are obligated and entrusted with the remembrance of past events so we can pay honor to those who fought so honorably. The weekend of September 14-15-16 2012, over 4,000 men and women endured the heat and humidity of the day the cold of early fall nights to do just that; pay our respects to the 23,000 men who became casualties of an only 12 hour battle. 3,654 men died and another 19,346 men were wounded or captured. That number figures out to one person every second. Wrap your head around that number. Remember; last week I mentioned Lee's lost order #191. Orders change and McClellan believed he had the upper hand in the matter. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Both sides suffered terrible in this clash. A doctor's report said, “There is not a barn, or farmhouse, or store, or church, or schoolhouse between Boonesville and Sharpstown that is not gorged with wounded.” We can not begin to understand the overwhelming horror that these communities had to endure for months after a battle.
I have read many accounts of the actions that occurred on that single day; September 17th 1862. Each one in it's own right just as terrible as the last. Allow me now to give you the short version. Coming in from the north and east the Army of the Potomac advances toward the Dunker Church. Pushing it's way south on both flanks on the now infamous Dunker Church. The fight is intense and both armies start their deadly game. Union artillery worked at softening the enemies strong positions. At another part of the field is Miller's Cornfield. Here the rebels become aware of the Federal advance and they just wait. Positioning themselves about 30 yards from the corn field, in the open, they form their battle front. As the raising sun shines off the bayonets and their motion is detected in the waving corn stocks, they slowly advance through the corn rows. Before the Union soldiers are even seen the rebels open a deadly fire on anyone who continues to push forward... Our reenactment of this action was a nonpublic battle for living historians only. It became very easy to lose track of those men who were to be on our flank. The corn stocks were very high and the action moved very quickly. We didn't literally destroy the field, but did quiet a number on it. Large areas lay broken over and wide trails could be seen as our armies clashed and withdrew to fight from another position.
The Sunken Road was the most intense fighting I'd seen in a long time. The 69th PA Volunteer Infantry portrayed the 69th N.Y. Volunteers. With our colors raised high we advanced onto the rebel held road. We experienced heavy casualties and they did as well. This reenactment was very close to the actual appearance of the Bloody Lane as this spot was also known. Bodies lay literally stacked upon each other. All I can say is you actually have to see it to appreciate what those men did. Their bravery under real fierce fire can not be described by mortal man, we are so little as to understand the true depth of the courage they displayed that day and in many more battles to come.
Our last display of courage comes with the charge onto the so-called Burnside's Bridge over Antietam Creek. This bridge is just south and slightly east of Sharpsburg and is the scene of a seriously stupid blunder by General Ambrose Burnside. He orders his men to cross a bridge that is only 13 feet wide. The rebels have a heyday firing into the men as they cross this narrow 150 foot long approach to their elevated position. The concentrated fire again takes a heavy toll on the federal army. However, they do manage to overcome the position by the shear fact of numbers. The Federal just kept coming and the southerners fell back to another position.
I have been fighting this four year war for nearly sixteen years and this weekend was one of the most intense. The feeling of satisfaction we get, the paying tribute of honor to those who actually fought these battles is what makes the entire effort worth the pain that many feel afterward. The pain is only temporary, but the feeling of gratitude we feel in their remembrance is fulfilling beyond measure.
There is another aspect of what we do many of you don't understand. We as living historians share an equal passion and love for our heritage. We care that we had an ancestor who fought and survived and many of us had someone who didn't live to fight another day. Most families who live in this yet great country have been here long enough to have this heritage. All you have to do is look and care about those who made this country what it is. My thought is if you don't care about your past, you don't deserve what you claim each and every day. To paraphrase our current president, “You didn't build what you have in this country. No, you only have what you have because someone else's blood was shed, that you might have it better than your parents did.
Another wonderful blessing that we get is the friendship and brotherhood of others who share the same passion for our history. This isn't just an American thing. Did you know others like us reenact the “War of the Great Rebellion” in other countries? I have had the privilege of standing in the ranks with men from countries like Great Britain and just this weekend, a young man from Australia. James and his lovely wife Emma Jane Pioch flew in a couple days before the event. They camped with the 69th PVI, because we were the only ones to respond to their desire to become historians here. They are an amazing young couple and it was the regiment's and my pleasure to host them for the weekend. James is an registered nurse and reenacts with about 20-30 federal soldiers down under. He is a sergeant back in their homeland twenty minutes outside of Melborne. I think he said with the 62nd New York. Maybe they'll now become the 69th PVI. He was very helpful in the ranks. Emma Jane is a teacher. We love them both and consider them part of the family. They will be welcome anytime they are in the states.
I was only ten years old during the Susque-Centenial. One of the things I remember most was the Budweiser Clydesdales coming to town. This became a reality because of George Couch Jr. who was the first cousin of Bernice Kunkle, Brackbill, Isenberg. Remember the dalmatian dog that sat on the Budweiser Wagon? That dog was actually only a pup named Buddie. He was given to Bernice and family afterward and he was part of their family for 17 years. I remember him as having one blue and one brown eye. We are Brackbill cousins as well and I remember playing with Buddie when we visited Garth, Jimmie and Susie. Wouldn't it be nice to see the Clydesdales again?
See you all Saturday the 29th at the battlefield near Moyer's Park.
Donald E. Husler Jr.