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This last Sunday I went to Antietam (or Sharpsburg) Battlefield to see a demonstration by Brady’s Michigan Sharpshooters. They showed us how to load a rifle as well as an example of what a skirmish would look like.

(Pictured: John Teller and Audrey Scanlan-Teller)

This event was particularly good one to have at Antietam given how much the topography influenced the amount of causalities. When the re-enactors advanced or retreated up and down just the small hills near the visitor’s center, you could see how easy it would be to shoot at someone’s head if you were on higher ground, or to take someone by surprise if you were blocked by a hilly-area of the battlefield. This is why places like Dunker’s Church were so heavily coveted by both sides. Even modestly higher ground was the difference between life and death.

(Audrey Scanlan-Teller explains how a skirmish works.)

While I was there I also had a long conversation with two re-enactors who participated in the event, Audrey Scanlan-Teller and Tracy McIntyre, both female re-enactors who have been rocking the boats of the re-enactment world just by their mere participation. I heard about both these ladies through another re-enactor contact who told me they were both well-respected in the community, but the stories that both Tracy and Audrey told suggested that this opinion was not universally shared.

Both of their impressions pay homage, in some way, to the women who disguised themselves as men and fought during the War. As a result, both take their impressions very seriously - keeping their hair short, no make-up, no jewelry, no “va-va-voom” tight coats. These all seem like obvious requirements, but there are plenty of female re-enactors who do not go out of their way to make themselves look like men. Pony tails, nail polish - all of these things do a disservice not only to female re-enactors who wish to be taken seriously, they noted, but also to the actual women who were risking everything just to fight for their country.

More on female re-enactors later though!

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About a month and a half ago, I toured Antietam Battlefield for the first time with my sister. We bought the audio tour from the gift shop and sat in front of the empty Cornfield as the stories of the soldiers were told to us through my truck’s speakers. Realizing how much suffering had gone on around us was a little shocking, and the openness of the battlefield made it easier to imagine what unfolded before our eyes.

That was not the experience that I had at my first ever full-fledged battle reenactment, on Antietam’s sesquicentennial. Not on the 17th (yesterday), but on the prior Saturday, we headed up to Legacy Farm in Boonsboro to see a recreation battle of the Bloody Lane.

Two hours prior to the battle, we wandered around:

Of course I wandered around looking for music, which I knew had to be around somewhere. This is the 2nd South Carolina String Band - their music has been featured in Ken Burn’s documentaries as well as in a scene of ‘Gods and Generals’. They use all period instruments, and sing songs that would have been sung around campfires during the war.

They sang Oh, I’m a Good Ole Rebel, which you can listen to by clicking on that link (in fact, that may even be them in the recording, I think I recognize his voice, and they were in Gods and Generals. Please ignore the obnoxious youtube comments though, no offense meant by reposting, it’s just so you guys can hear the song). Anyway, before they started singing, they were like, ‘These lyrics may be offensive to some people, but luckily we live in a country where we can sing songs like this in public and not get carted off to jail.’ Here are some of the lyrics:

I hates the Constitution
This great Republic too.
I hates the Freedmen’s Bureau
In uniforms of blue.
I hates the nasty eagle
With all his brag and fuss.
But the lyin’, thievin’ Yankees
I hates’ em wuss and wuss.

I hates the Yankee nation
And everything they do.
I hates the Declaration
Of Independence too.
I hates the glorious Union —
'Tis dripping with our blood —
I hates their striped banner,
And I fit it all I could. 

Three hundred thousand Yankees
Lie still in Southern dust
We got three hundred thousand
Before they conquered us.
They died of Southern fever
And Southern steel and shot.
I wish we’d killed three million
Instead of what we got.

After they finished singing, the lead singer said again, “We’re so fortunate that we can sing that in public, thanks to the constitution that I just said I hated.” It’s obvious that they are a group who sing Southern songs for the sake of living history, and they were very considerate about the audience members and no one seemed to be outwardly offended.

There was however, an older woman standing next to me who knew every word and sang along with the band, not only to I’m a Good Ole Rebel, but all their other songs too. It’s funny to come in contact with people who really have this stuff in their blood, offensive to other people or no (she’d probably tell em to go to hell, right?) Perhaps she was taught that song by a grandfather who fought in the War…

Click for more of my adventures, including Abe Lincoln’s 3rd cousin Ralph!

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