The Civil War Battle of Antietam was so big, they're re-enacting it twice. And nearly 8,000 re-enactors had to make a choice: strictly regimented realism or bombastic spectacle?
The two privately financed events, both open to the public, were scheduled on back-to-back weekends leading up to Monday's 150th anniversary of the bloodiest day of combat on U.S. soil. About 4,000 uniformed re-enactors participated in last weekend's event near Boonsboro, Md. Another 4,000 plan to take part in this weekend's extravaganza near Sharpsburg, Md.
The dual re-enactments highlight a division between the hobby's so-called progressive wing, with its scrupulous focus on historical accuracy, and mainstream re-enactors more interested in battle tactics and camaraderie than in having the correct number of uniform buttons.
Both groups are dedicated to commemorating the clash that occurred Sept. 17, 1862, on rolling farmland along Antietam Creek, about 60 miles north of Washington. More than 23,000 combatants from the North and South were reported dead, wounded or missing after 12 hours of carnage that began at dawn.
It's unusual for competing groups to mount separate battle re-enactments, but this is no ordinary anniversary. Antietam, known in the South as the Battle of Sharpsburg, is the biggest Civil War event of 2012. Antietam came nearly 18 months after the war's opening shot at Fort Sumter, and 2½ years before the Confederate surrender at Appomattox, Va.