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Reenactors drudge up Laurel's rugged Civil War past

MuseumsCultureAmerican LegionRailway Transportation

Nowadays, the "bink" of metal softball bats from the softball diamond is about the loudest noise heard near American Legion Post 60 in Laurel.

But it wasn't always that way.

Around 150 years ago, it was commonplace for residents to hear the "boom" of rifle fire coming from Union troops conducting field drills at the Civil War encampment known as Laurel Station, and located where the American Legion is today.

"This is hallowed ground, this is historic ground," said Laurel resident and Civil War reenactor Mike Kreger on Saturday at the Laurel Historical Society's living history program.

The all-day event, which was co-sponsored by the American Legion and 2nd Maryland Infantry reenactors, included demonstrations from period soldiers and civilians on everything from rifle fire to Army musicians, and was capped off with a live reenactment of the fictitious Battle of Laurel Station.

"Although there were no battles fought here, they were guarding the railroad, which was a lifeline for the Union," said Laurel resident Ken Skrivseth, who is a member of the Laurel Historical Society. "Imagine the intensity, everything dark as pitch, and imagine something is happening about half a mile down. You don't have a phone, you've got nobody to contact. You can imagine the tension without the action."

And while the Laurel Station troops didn't see any action, they had a few close brushes with Confederate troops, and could even hear cannon fire from the Battle of Gettysburg and the Battle of Antietam, according to Skrivseth.

According to Laurel Historical Society member Karen Lubieniecki, soldiers were stationed in Laurel from 1861 to 1865 to guard the railroad line between Washington and North.

In researching the Laurel Museum's current exhibit, "Stationed in Laurel: Our Civil War Story," Laurel Historical Society volunteers located a map in the Library of Congress, dated 1862, that showed a Union camp where the American Legion is now located and another camp about one block west of the railroad tracks, where the MARC parking lot is now located at Main Street.

"It was critical for the Union Army to keep this railroad station," said Kreger, who is a corporal with the 2nd Maryland Infantry of the Confederate Army.

Getting 'more of a feel'

During Saturday's reenactment, people from across the state and of all ages came to learn about Laurel's Civil War history.

"It gives you a sense of what it's like to live at the time, to perform the drills, how long it took to load a gun," said Richard Wong, who came from Derwood. "It's that face to face interaction rather than reading about it in a book."

Wong said he came from Montgomery County at the behest of his 6-year-old daughter, Julianna, who's fast becoming a Civil War buff.

Another parent who brought a young child was Laurel resident Jamie Lennon, who is a medieval reenactor.

"My father did Civil War reenactments, so I thought it would be a fun thing to bring the kid to," said Lennon, who brought her 6-year-old son, Mo.

"It gives you a more vivid and comprehensive picture of history," she said about reenactments. "The reenactors know their business, and offer a lot of the material culture you aren't going to hear in your history class."

Laurel High American history teacher Dale Brennan, who is a member of the 28th Massachusetts USV reenactors, agreed.

"My students know how I feel about reenactments because I bring this stuff into my lessons," said Brennan, whose regiment was part of Saturday's program. "You get a taste of what it is like. It gives the people who come more of a feel."

For Skrivseth and Lubieniecki, who are married, the event ties in nicely to the Laurel Museum's Civil War exhibit.

"It's really about the soldiers who were at the encampment in Laurel," Lubieniecki said. "If you go up to the museum (at Ninth and Main street), what you'll find is some of the stories (of soliders) who were actually stationed here."

Lubieniecki said the museum houses artifacts from the encampment, which include a sword, dog tags and letters written to family members.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for people to experience hands-on what soldiers' lives were like who were stationed here," she said. "Hopefully people will come up to the exhibit at the museum and learn more about Laurel and the Civil War."

"Stationed in Laurel: Our Civil War Story"continues at the Laurel Museum, 817 Main St., through Dec. 22. Laurel Museum is open Wednesdays and Fridays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Sundays, 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is free.. For more information, go to laurelhistoricalsociety.org or contact the Laurel Museum at info@laurelhistoricalsociety.org, or 301-725-7975.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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