Antietam

We’re getting close to the Worldwide Photowalk on October 13.  As of today, there are more than 1,100 walks around the world, with more than 20,000 photographers registered to participate.  We don’t want you to miss it, so sign up to join Mark and me in Williamsburg, Virginia.  We still have some open slots.  (Click here for our walk.)

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In case you weren’t aware, we’re going through the sesquicentennial (150 years) of the American Civil War.  For history buffs, this is a great opportunity to get out and make some fun photographs.  I decided, at the last minute, to drive up to Sharpsburg, MD, for the commemoration of the Battle of Antietam last weekend.

The battle occurred on 17 September, 1862.  This was a horrific day of battle with 23,000 casualties – still the worst in our history.  Lee’s first real foray into Union territory did not go quite the way he planned, but McClellan frittered away an opportunity to crush the Confederates and possibly shorten the war.  This battle gave President Lincoln the opportunity to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, ending slavery and creating a geopolitical environment that kept England and France from coming to the aid of the Confederates.  And that gross over-simplification will end today’s history lesson.  If you want to learn more about the battle at Antietam, go here.

Photographically, last weekend’s event was rich.  There were more than 1,000 re-enactors, and the weather was fantastic.  If I had done a little more investigation and planning prior to my trip (something we always preach), I would have spent the entire weekend there.  The National Park Service, town of Sharpsburg, and all the folks involved in the commemoration did everything possible to make this event succeed.

I wandered all around the actual battlefield for seven hours, and, everywhere you turned, there were photographs waiting to be snapped.  I met several other photographers during the day bouncing around the events.  The force-on-force re-enactments were three miles north of the battlefield, but I didn’t have enough time to catch those. (Planning...sigh….)

My favorite photo of the day is from one of the artillery demonstrations.  The guys did an excellent presentation about the mechanics of firing the guns, leading up to several live demonstrations.  Timing is crucial here since the actual blasts are so fast.  Usually, you get shots of the cannons with lots of smoke – I have dozens – but, this time, I got several with fireballs blasting from the muzzle of the cannons.  After each demonstration, they brought the crowds around the cannons for questions.  The big guns were a big hit, especially with the kids.

cannon fire at Antietam BattlefieldOne of the clashes on the flanks of the Confederate forces took place at the stone bridge (now called Burnside Bridge) crossing Antietam Creek.  There were many re-enactors there looking over the battlefield around the bridge; conducting small drills; and explaining the actions that occurred at this important part of the battle to the crowds that gathered.

Confederate formation at Antietam

Union formation at AntietamI had a great time photographing some of the re-enactors at their stations.  They were very cooperative since they all spent lots of time and money making their period costumes.  If you are a photographer who worries about asking strangers if you can take their photo, this is an easy environment for you.

Civil War re-enactors at AntietamUnion soldiers on Burnside Bridge, AntietamThere were lots of encampments around the battlefield, and the re-enactors were camping there throughout their weekend participation.

Union camp at AntietamI couldn’t resist converting some of the photos into black and white with sepia toning.   Digital photos are also too clean for the effect, so I added in some noise and scratches to simulate the look of the authentic Civil War photographs.  You also want to keep your eyes open for modern devices that didn’t exist 150 years ago.  I had to clone out some brightly-colored earplugs on some of the "soldiers."

Confederate picket line at AntietamLook for similar events in your area as the sesquicentennial rolls on until 2014.  I think I need to start planning now for Gettysburg next year.  Now that will be a fun event to watch with my camera.

Union parade at AntietamConfederate caisson at Antietam