Some supporters from the sidelines are war veterans of decades ago, in Korea and World War II.
“It’s kind of a ghastly brotherhood,” said Tony Morgan of Falling Waters, W.Va., “but the brotherhood of war brings people together.”
Whether veterans or not, re-enactors feel a commitment to telling the story of war like it is.
That’s what they set out to do Saturday in a field near the Springfield Farm barn in Williamsport.
They portrayed part of a Civil War battle known as the Wagoneers’ Fight, which took place July 6, 1863.
The two sides hunkered down behind fence rows about 100 feet apart and blasted at each other. Artillery rounds echoed in the air and shook the ground.
Spectators watched intently and took pictures. A few stuck their fingers in their ears to deaden the noise.
The battle re-enactment was one part of a full schedule for the Retreat Through Williamsport weekend.
After screenings of student films on Friday night, the event continued Saturday with horse and wagon rides, book signings, music and artillery demonstrations.
Other activities are planned for Sunday, including a march re-enactment starting at 10 a.m. at Cushwa Basin and camp demonstrations starting at 9 a.m. at Springfield Farm.
Scott Bragunier, the event coordinator, narrated some of the battle action through a public-address system.
“This is the most nerve-wracking part of my weekend,” he told a reporter, referring to his role supervising the confluence of re-enactors from many parts to tell a battle story.
Morgan, who portrayed a Confederate commander, said events such as this one give people a chance to “get out, hear the weapons, feel the concussion of the artillery.” Bystanders are encouraged to ask questions about what they saw and what it meant.
“We all try to preserve our history,” said Robert Mauk of Funkstown, who played the role of an infantry captain with the 8th Maryland. His group is based in Hagerstown.
He said re-enactors want to keep alive the knowledge and memory of the war in which Americans fought Americans, resulting in hundreds of thousands of casualties.
In reality, the 8th Maryland was involved in the Battle of Funkstown while the Wagoneers’ Fight was going on, Mauk said.
But the Maryland Brigade came to Williamsport a few days later and helped guard railroads and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, he said.
On the other side of the field, Tony Turley of Richmond, Va., portrayed a captain with the 21st Virginia.
He said he and some of his colleagues were glad to be in Williamsport this weekend because the 21st Virginia was part of the Wagoneers’ Fight.
Re-enactors want people to know the hardships a Civil War soldier endured, regardless of the cause he supported.
At one point, Jim Callear of Powhatan, Va., playing a Confederate soldier, fell to the ground with a large red stain — mock blood — covering his chest.
His daughter, Jaime Callear, wearing a period dress, rushed to his side and yelled for help in carrying him off the battlefield.
This was a cue for spectators to step in. One, who had been briefed in advance, moved in to help, then a few others did.
Jim Callear said he likes getting spectators involved in the role-playing, which usually makes them more interested and attached to the living history lesson.