SIDNEY — Describing it as one of the most difficult decisions he’s had to make in recent years, Sidney Mayor Mike Barhorst announced the Sidney, Ohio’s Civil War Living History Weekend, originally scheduled for Sept. 19-20, has been postponed. The decision was made Saturday morning during the final monthly planning meeting for the biennial event.
Event organizers had previously scheduled an additional day (Sept. 18) so that the county’s ninth-grade students could attend. These students would have attended the Shelby County Historical Society’s Civil War Day in the spring; the spring event was also canceled due to the pandemic. The Sept. 18 addition was canceled a month ago after it became clear that school field trips could not take place at this time.
The planning committee, including Shelby County Historical Society Director Tilda Phlipot, Sidney Parks & Recreation Director Duane Gaier, Union Commander Scott Sharp, Confederate Commander J.R. Sharp, Confederate Aide-de-Camp Chad Cochran, Union Provost Marshal Doug Slagel and Barhorst, voted to postpone the event after consultation with the Sidney-Shelby County Health Department and reviewing the state-wide orders concerning mass gatherings, masks, food, entertainment and camping.
“We had individuals coming from Indiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia as well as Ohio,” Phlipot said. “There really wasn’t any way for participants to come in time and have them self-quarantine.”
“Because so many reenacting events have been cancelled this year,” J.R. Sharp said, “we were expecting an unusually high number of participants. We waited until the last possible minute, hoping for the storm to clear.”
“Unfortunately, we are not able to predict COVID or its continued path throughout the world. It was our decision to not take the risk in putting anyone in harm’s way,” Sharp said. “I would like to think that those we seek to remember would agree that this is the best thing to do. Quite frankly, until we made the decision to postpone, we actually thought that we might be the only event in the Midwest this year.”
Union Commander Scott Sharp, who would have assumed command this year from Tim Bills, who commanded Union forces in 2016 and 2018, was equally disappointed.
“Sidney’s event has always been one that reenactors enjoy. Tawawa Park is not only beautiful,” Sharp said, “it has the room to enable troops to maneuver in authentic ways not possible in many venues.”
“Additionally, reenactors have always been treated quite well in Sidney,” Sharp said. “Not only has the community made us feel welcome, but those who have come to the event from far away have as well.”
“We had worked on a scenario in which Union and Confederate troops would fight over control of the Zenas King bridge,” Cochran said. “It was our plan to re-enact the fight over the Lower Bridge (aka Burnside’s Bridge) during the Battle of Antietam.”
During the actual Battle of Antietam, 500 Confederate soldiers from Georgia held off repeated attempts by the Union Army’s IX Corps (approximately 8,000 troops) to take the bridge for several hours. The Battle of Antietam was the costliest single-day battle in terms of casualties (approximately 22,720) fought in the Civil War, and in fact the worst single-day battle ever fought in North America.
”Planning for this year’s event actually began two months prior to the 2018 event,” Barhorst said. “If we are unable to find dates that work for the re-enactors next year, we’ll simply attempt to offer a program similar to the one planned for Sidney’s Bicentennial on the corresponding dates in 2022 (Sept. 17-18).”
“There have been so many events canceled due to the pandemic that the committee didn’t have the heart to say that still another had been canceled,” Slagel said. “Rather, we elected to say that it had been postponed but in reality, none of us know the future. It is quite possible that we won’t have the opportunity to return until 2022.”
“We will welcome the event back when the organizers believe that it is safe to return,” Gaier said. “The past events have brought a lot of first-time visitors to the park, all of whom have been favorably impressed that a community the size of Sidney has such a tremendous asset.”
“One of the most common comments I have heard is ‘Wow! Our city is five times larger, and our largest park isn’t even a third this size!’” Gaier said. “’And, our park certainly doesn’t have lakes, a stream and the number of trees you have!’”
At least one event scheduled as part of the weekend will take place despite the postponement. The rededication of the statue of “Sergeant Baker” that sits in the niche atop The Monumental Building will still take place Saturday morning, Sept. 19, at 10 a.m.
That program will include comments by a number of individuals, including The Honorable Donald D. Luce, retired Sidney Municipal Court judge. Luce will deliver the principal address.
During the ceremonies, the statue of “Sergeant Baker,” repainted for Sidney’s Bicentennial, will be unveiled. It is expected that a small detachment of Union reenactors as well as a small detachment of Confederate reenactors will also participate in the ceremonies.
The street (Ohio Avenue) in front of the Monumental Building will be closed to traffic so that there will be adequate space for those attending the ceremony to socially distance. Because a large number of spectators are expected to attend, it is recommended that those attending take masks or facial coverings so that if necessary, they can be worn.