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'I try to reimagine it': Westminster gets glimpse of Civil War era with historic encampment

At noon on Saturday, Union and Confederate soldiers marched the streets of Westminster, traveling from the Emerald Hill mansion to the Westminster’s Ascension Episcopal Church cemetery to lay two wreaths.

They were honoring Civil War veterans: 1st Lt. John Murray, Co. E 4th Virginia Cavalry, Confederate killed during Corbit’s Charge; and Samuel Butler Co., C 32nd Inf. U.S.C.T., of the Union.

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As the hot and weary soldiers trudged back to Emerald Hill, onlookers joined in, following them back to an historic encampment with a multitude of activities. The Corbit's Charge Civil War Encampment, an annual two-day-event that continues Sunday, is hosted by the Pipe Creek Civil War Round Table (PCCWRT) to commemorate Westminster’s Civil War history.

Jessica and Patrick Bowersox of Westminster came with their children, 6-year-old Maddison and 10-year-old Zachary.

“We love the history of the Civil War,” Jessica said. “We love the interaction and the learning that comes with it. The kids get excited. We get excited, and all the artifacts are just amazing. To have the answers for their questions and to learn more about it is just really great.”

Maddison said she liked it all, but Zachary was focused on the guns and bullet shells.

“I try to reimagine it,” Patrick said. “I like to place myself there, to try to see how they looked at it back then and compare that to how we would look at it today.”

On June 29, 1863, Westminster residents were launched into the reality of war when 108 Union troopers from companies C and D of the 1st Delaware Cavalry clashed with 5,000 Confederate Cavalry troopers at the corner of Washington Road and Main Street. The battle, with Commander J.E.B. Stuart, was later named Corbit’s Charge after Captain Charles Corbit, leader of the Union troopers. Although considered a Confederate victory, the battle helped impede Stuart’s ability to link up with the Confederate infantry in Pennsylvania — thus contributing to a Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg.

More than an encampment, the two-day slice of history celebrates the battle, but is also an educational event with working artisans, demonstrations, a concert, skits, carriage tours, guided walking tours of Westminster, and multiple historical presentations and artifacts.

Daniel Nganga and his son Kyle watched re-enactor, Ned Landis demonstrate how a cannon works, where the powder is packed and the placement of a timed fuse. Landis handed over a 12-pound howitzer ball, so the visitors could feel the weight. Then he shared a hollow ball that could be packed with gunpowder and filled with smaller metal balls, meant to shoot out upon explosion.

Nganga of Owings Mills said he served in Korea with the United States Army and was watching from the viewpoint of a veteran.

“It may not look like it, but this is a weapon,” he said of the cannon. “The lessons are good for my son. It is good to see how things change. We should have more of this.”

Nancy McKenzie worked the consignment shop inside the mansion, selling colonial clothing and other items. She’s been with PCCWRT for about 10 years.

“I’ve always loved history, but when [husband] Ned and I met, and he was in the middle of this, I found my ticket to get back into history again. I dress blue, I dress gray, I dress girl — you name it and I do it. I am also a trained artillerist.”

McKenzie said kids love this event, and they keep bringing their parents back.

“We instituted a junior re-enactor or junior soldier program a while back. There are certain things the kids do and get checked off, and then they get a pin at the end. We also have kids’ activities. Two years ago, we had about 30 kids learning embroidery — boys and girls. They sat there all afternoon and didn’t want to leave.”

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Christine and John Milleker of Baltimore demonstrated tintype photography, one of the earliest forms of alternative photography.

“We do the photography exactly as it was done in the 1850s and 1860s,” Christine said.

“Everything is exact, right down to the same chemicals and recipes,” John said.

He had a dark box behind him for processing but poured the plates right in front of onlookers.

“When it is done it looks like a negative,” he explained. “After you pour the fixer onto the tin photo it dissolves all that unexposed, undeveloped silver, and just like magic [the picture] appears,” he explained. “It is exactly how they did it back then.”

While a blacksmith hammered behind them and smoke wafted past, Westminster residents, Debbie Hunter and Steve Renfro stopped to speak with chair canner Rick Barrick of Westminster. Hunter said she has been coming to the encampment for years, but it was Barrick’s first time.

“I wanted to see the re-enactment,” he said.

Hunter’s interest was in the chair weaving and seeing how things were made in the 1860s.

John Flickinger, who portrayed a Confederate captain, had traveled in from his home in State College, Pennsylvania.

“I like how PCCWRT equally covers both sides of the conflict,” he said. “It’s a nice, laid-back event, very well organized, and there’s plenty to do here.”

The event will be open again Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. PCCWRT representative Steven Carney encouraged all to attend.

“Folks should come out, learn about local history, and have fun while doing it,” he said.

For more information or questions, email pipecreekroundtable@gmail.com, or visit PCCWRT online at pipecreekroundtable.org or www.facebook.com/pccwrt.

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