I include this because I have been a Scout leader for nearly nine years, and have an interest in the program and, indeed, with youth in general. My son Ulysses Begone is very close to getting his Eagle. - Jonah
Boy Scouts at Antietam
(by Johnny D. Boggs, From Boys' Life, July 1998)
Charge! Florida Explorers lead the attack as North and South clash - again - at the bloody Battle of Antietam.
Thousands of boys and men in blue and gray uniforms somberly mill around rows and rows of canvas tents. Though the calendar reads 1997, this scene at Hagerstown, Md., says 1862--Sept. 17, 1862, specifically, the middle of America's Civil War.
Among the many who feel the fear of those who fought before them: five members of Explorer Post 479, Clearwater, Fla., teen-age reenactors about to relive the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day of the Civil War.
A Predawn Reveille
The sun hasn't yet risen as the Explorers, now members of the Union Army's 79th New York Cameron Highlanders, fall into formation. They wear wool uniforms and carry heavy, .58-caliber Enfield rifles. It's cold, and a heavy fog hovers over the damp ground, a fog that will soon blend in with the thick, foul-smelling smoke from cannons and muskets.
Explorers Chris Cieszynski, Kevin Clark, Blake Jones, Jake Krajewski and Steven Smith are nervous. They've never participated in a battle of this scale (indeed, no one has). After making sure their rifles are clean, the Highlanders march to battle where they will shoot, scream, charge, retreat, kill and, yes, die.
And then they'll get to do it again.
History Comes Alive
These teen-agers have joined the popular pastime of Civil War reenacting, bringing history to life and providing a unique way of experiencing the horrors, excitement and confusion of battle.
More than 100,000 spectators and 12,000 reenactors are on hand, making it the largest Civil War reenactment to date.
Authenticity is the key to reenacting. For Antietam (ann-TEE-tum), a 612-acre farm 10 miles from the actual battlefield is being used, complete with a 30-acre cornfield and a 200-yard ditch lined with split-rail fences to look like Antietam's "sunken road." Clothes, gear and weapons are duplicates of those used in the 1860's.
Forget propane stoves and lanterns. Cooking is by fire; candle lanterns are made of glass and wood; tents are canvas with buttons (zippers hadn't been invented yet) and only hay, blankets or the wet ground serves as the floor. There are tin cups and kettles and wooden tables. Ice chests are not allowed.
So what's for supper?
Beef stew ... ham soup ... maybe some hardtack, the Army bread that's tough on teeth and stomachs.
"Definitely not the greatest meal I've had in my life," Blake Jones says. "I'm surprised half of the soldiers back then didn't die from starvation."
The battle has begun. The Highlanders are entering the cornfield, but it's still dark, smoky and foggy. The rattle of musketry never ceases. You can see cannons flash and moments later hear the loud crash. The Explorers and other reenactors march through the corn--no stalk will stand by the end of the battle--nervous, excited, maybe even a little scared.
Officers' commands get lost amid the noise. Gunsmoke sickens. In the confusion, Chris Cieszynski and others open fire only to realize their horrible mistake: They are shooting at their own men. Blake marches on, but he can see only a couple of men to his left. He has no idea where the rest of his unit is. He sees the rifle flashes from the Confederates in front of him.
"You're wondering if your whole army's with you because you don't know who's still alive and who's still down," Blake says.
He'll fire 60 rounds this morning, though the only thing he'll see is corn.
An exhausted Jake Krajewski swigs water from his canteen. "It's chaos!" he says.
The chaos, however, is structured. The battles are scripted, right down to who dies and when--this is re-creating history, remember--although there are a few surprise elements such as charges.
After the battle, the reenactors who are still "alive" retire to their perhaps or visit the sutlers, an 1860's of a mall, where clothes, supplies, even authentic Civil War buttons are sold. The "dead" reenactors soon join their friends.
Chris Cieszynski is "killed" early in the afternoon battle of the sunken road, one of the more important skirmishes of Antietam that came to be known as "Bloody Lane."
"That's one of the most fun parts of reenacting," Chris says of being killed. "I get to fall on the field and watch."
It's a good thing too. He just bought a pair of brogans (Civil War boots) and made the mistake of trying to break them in at Antietam.
"I ended up falling asleep after the first battle, because my feet hurt so bad and I was so tired," he says.
A friend cleans his rifle for him. Chris will return the favor the next day.
There's more to see than just battles, though. Chris serves as a guard in a mock "drumming out" of a poor soldier who is being kicked out of the Army. The soldier is escorted to the edge of camp, his coat and hat are turned around, and he is kicked in his behind and shoved on his way.
Blake visits a hospital, where the horrible scenes of amputations are recreated, complete with ear-piercing screams. It's not for the squeamish, even if this is just make-believe.
"A couple of guys say they saw a ghost out there," Kevin Clark says, relaxing at camp. "They say a lot of people see them."
In the afternoon, it's back to the sunken road. The Explorers push forward like an army of ants to the trench, firing, screaming, confused. They knock over the split-rail fence.
Steven Smith, meanwhile, is lost and trying to find his regiment. Blake Jones is realizing the deadly truth that is war. "There's no way either side can win this one," he says.
History proves him correct. The battle, of Antietam was a tactical draw.
What It Was Like
There are many reasons reenactors battle. Among them: remembering and respecting history.
"Back then," Blake says of fighting at Antietam, "it was for their family or their country."
When the battles are over, these Explorers can understand the Civil War better. They have come as close as possible to personally experiencing its horror, fear and confusion.
At the sunken road, Blake looks back at the bodies of "dead" soldiers scattered on the field.
"I've read books on it before and seen pictures," he says, "but I never knew it could be like that."