"On Wings Of Time" Preview Is Given
"On Wings Of Time" Preview Is Given
Regional History Re-Enacted On Huge Stage At Hagerstown In Preparation For Celebration In September.
(By A Staff Correspondent)
The Battle of Antietam will have been fought seventy-five years ago on September 17, and the anniversary is to be commemorated with a re-enactment of one action of this bloodiest battle of the War Between the States.
President Roosevelt has accepted an invitation to attend the commemorative exercises and great pains have been taken to insure a successful show.
Hagerstown and Washington county are seizing upon the occasion to produce a pageant that will include not only the Civil War but all of the history of the region. The pageant is replete with history and tableaux and a "Miss Antietam." And Congress authorized the issue of 50,000 fifty-cent pieces to commemorate the occasion.
To acquaint the press with the project, representatives were invited Sunday to tour the battlefield and view a special preview of the pageant. These activities took up the best part of the day and the Antietam Celebration Commission served the newsmen with dinner between the tour and the pageant.
The visitors were given maps of the battlefield and taken to the various important points, where Capt. John K. Beckenbaugh pointed out routes of advance and lines held, and endeavored to answer all questions, while the photographers sought new poses for Miss Antietam, who in private life is Miss Julia Brandt, a young lady chosen for the job in a county-wide popularity contest.
The Battle of Antietam is especially remembered because it was the bloodiest of the Civil War; and the Civil War was the first in which modern efficiency in slaughter by gunfire was achieved.
A publicity release from the Department of the Interior says: "The most sanguinary one day fight in American history was fought here September 17, 1862, by the Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee and the Union force commanded by General George B. McClellan.
"Approximately 23,000 were killed and wounded. General McClellan had an army of 87,000, all of whom, however, were not engaged and General Lee's Army is variously estimated at from 35,000 to 50,000." (General Lee himself said he fought the Battle of Antietam with not more than 35,000 men; and the Federal Government estimates he could not had more than 40,000. The Encyclopedia Britannica gives the number of men under Lee engaged in the battle as 31,200.
The release then goes into the intricacies of the action, among which you read that, at one point, "about 2,000 men fell in 20 minutes, as the opposing forces contested every inch of ground, until Sedgwick, forced into the open ground beyond the woods, was forced to retire."
Battle Costly Draw
The battle, historically, was a costly draw, but you gather from Captain Beckenbaugh and the publicity men who have been boning up on it, that it was a close thing for the Confederates. At one time, for example, they withdrew, decimated, behind a hill. There were hardly 150 men, the story goes, yet they kept up such a waving of flags and firing of cannon that the Union forces believed them impregnable.
The pageant was a very different sort of thing. It is named "On Wings of Time" because, as it was explained, "the entire history of the region passes before your eyes in the short while it takes to see the pageant through."
Yet, as the preview was presented for the press, the wings were still sprouting. The full pageant contains 32 scenes, but only the more lively ones were presented. They took all afternoon. At every interesting tableau, the cast would be ordered to "freeze" until the photographers had had their fill of straight shot, angle shots, and retakes just to make sure. Besides, the rainy weather had cost three nights' rehearsal last week.
The scenes are as authentic as they can be made on a huge outdoor stage in front of the grandstand of the Hagerstown Fairgrounds. The B. and O. has built a track across the front of the stage, with switches at each end, and its well preserved early trains puff across the scene at appropriate moments, all the way from the pioneer Tom Thumb to Lincoln's funeral train. The costumes are furnished by a pageant company, which also does the directing.
The scenes include such tableaux and events as these: Columbia (Miss Columbia, the central figure was runner-up for the Miss Antietam honor) in which a bevy of little girls kneel on the ground and unfold bits of flag which, held over their heads as if to keep off the rain, form, on one side a giant "U. S. A." and on the other an American flag.
National Highway, in which the early settlers advance and meet the Indians; Conestoga wagons; General Washington Visiting Hagerstown; "Atlantic" in which a group of gentlemen and ladies ride across the stage in an early B. and O. train; Plantation Scenes; Lincoln's Inauguration; Lincoln's Burial; the Battle of Burnside Bridge; the Gay Nineties and the Grand Finale. These, you can see, don't add nearly to thirty-two.
There is a good deal of interest among the cast in seeing what the show looks like. The directors foresaw this and arranged for two casts, each one taking turns. Both casts were present Sunday and the 1,500 unused people in the grandstand made a lively audience. However, the acting cast still showed active interest in what was going on upon the stage and frequently wandered out of the wings to look. The scenery was still being shifted just for practice, and several times just as a tableau was posed for photographs a new and incongruous background would wander in between two scene-shifters. But everyone was in a good humor.
"Lincoln" Kept Busy
While Lincoln's burial train was being photographed across the foreground, (Lincoln himself still being engaged in front of a tent on one side), the Burnside Bridge was erected on the stage, so that when the train pulled away, there stood the bridge. At a signal, in rushed the grey-clad Confederate soldiers and the blue-coated Union men, who a few minutes before had been fraternizing in the grandstand. Rifles popped, flags fluttered, and soldiers fell heavily to the stage. "Hold it," cried the director, and the scene froze into an unforgettable tableau, so still it might have been a painting.
Between scenes the actors mingled on the elevated walk in front of the grandstand, and never in all the United States' variegated history has such a motley crowd appeared at one time together. There were savage Indians, their red skin running in spots, for the day was warm, some of the wildest looking of them had neglected to remove their spectacles, or had put them back on to see better, and almost all of them wore oxfords and socks.
Colonial gentlemen, displaying a well-turned calf, hobnobbed with foppish looking fellows of the gay nineties scene. Hoop-skirted ladies chattered with the damsels who represented the nations in varied costumes. There were even some fellows who looked like cowboys, talking to skin-clad backwoodsmen of a hundred years before their time.
The military cast used in the re-enactment will consist of 2,000 infantrymen and artillerymen from the 29th Division—Maryland, Virginia and District of Columbia National Guardsmen—under command of Major General Milton A. Reckord. It is considered of interest that the Fifth Maryland Regiment taking part in the re-enactment will advance over the same ground that the former Fifth Maryland marched over in the battle itself.
Hagerstown and Washington county and the State of Maryland all have a finger in the Antietam Commemoration pie, to an amount of about $35,000. The fifty-cent pieces are on sale at a price that will bring $1.00 profit to the pageant committee if they all are sold. The expenses are estimated at $75,000 to $100,000, which ought to make things come out just about even.
Profits For Battlefield
If there should be any profits, they will be devoted to the battlefield. The committee has no desire to erect new monuments. It feels there are enough already, it explained. Instead, the members are anxious to try to restore the battlefield to a condition approximating that of the period in which the battle was fought. They feel they have a good start because the Antietam site lies in cultivated country; the same fields still are being used to raise crops, although some of the woodland has disappeared.
Meanwhile they are set for a big crowd to enjoy a colorful show.
Caption of photograph:
Central Figures In Pageant
Central figures in the approaching Antietam commemoration pageant are Miss Antietam and Miss Columbia. Miss Antietam, left, is Miss Julia Brandt, and Miss Columbia, next to her, is Miss Carolyn Thompson. They were chosen in a popularity contest.
Staff correspondent and News-Post Photo
The Daily News Frederick Md.
Reprinted with permission of the Frederick News-Post and Randall Family, LCC as published on Aug 30, 1937.
Western Maryland Room, Washington County Free Library.
Antietam, Battle of, Md., 1862: Centennial celebrations, etc
Washington County (Md.), 1937.