The Big One

Among my goals for December: write a post on the 150th of Gettysburg.  I’ve been putting it off for a while but December is coming to a close.  And so, it is time that I, the Domer in DC, climb the apex of bloggery.

2013-07-04 18.52.11

As you may have been aware, this year, 2013, marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.  There have been anniversary notices and articles for a few years now because the 150th anniversary actually spans 2011 to 2015, but could go even earlier than that, if you want to get into Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Bleeding Kansas and cover all the related things.  I won’t get into that because I’ve never read Uncle Tom’s Cabin and I’m not in Kansas anymore, Toto.  And honestly, all the related things get discussed ad nauseum at history nerd events anyway and I’m not sure I could distill the arguments into something blogworthy.

2013-07-04 11.52.11

Event staff: you had one job.

But back to the main topic – in a poll of things or events that define the Civil War, Gettysburg is up there at the top, along with Abraham Lincoln and the Stars and Bars.

The 4th of July, the last day of actual battle, fell on a Thursday, although there were events throughout the preceding week.  I went up with Mel that day, and our focus was on the reenactment.  (I discovered later there were so many more events throughout the rest of the Park, but it would have been impossible to be in all the places at once.)  We had heard that the Federal Generals Corps and Lee’s Lieutenants were going to be there, which was enough for us.  We’ve followed these guys, both groups, over the past few years, so this event was the confluence of everything wonderful about history.  Also, Al Stone is one of the best General Lees I’ve spoken with, and he was certainly better than the guy in the film Lincoln.  (Seriously.  Spielberg should have called Mr. Stone instead of whoever got the part because the guy in the movie was far to farby.)  Fangirling Civil War reenactors?  Don’t judge.


Just chillin’.

Admission was hefty, but totally worth it.  They said all profits go to land conservation, educational programs, and the like.  I am fairly certain they made enough to make another major motion picture because, in addition to the $40 admission price/day paid by an estimated 300,000 spectators, the reenactors themselves have to pay a registration fee to attend.  If you do the math … that’s a LOT of cash.

I’ve just realized I didn’t write anything down after this trip.  You know what?  I said to myself, You don’t need to write it down! Just put it on the blog! … #fail

The schedule for Day 1: (emphasis theirs)
8:30 am – Gates Open
9:00 am – The 46th Pennsylvania Brass Band (Tent 1)
9:30 am – An eye opening discussion of “Civil War Medicine.” (Tent 2)
10:00 am – General Longstreet tells you his plan for Gettysburg. (Tent 1)
10:30 am – General Hank talks about the battle to come. (Tent 2)
11:00 am – Battle: “The Devil to pay” 1st Day Struggle, Willoughby Run
                    – Live Mortar Fire Demonstration (follows battle)
1:00 pm – Patrick Falci talks about the making of the movie “Gettysburg” (Tent 1)
1:30 pm – General Robert E. Lee discusses his plan for Gettysburg (Tent 2)
2:00 pm – The Pinkerton Agency and the spies of the Civil War (Tent 1)
2:30 pm – A soldier’s story by Brandon Booth (Tent 2)
3:00 pm – A Civil War wedding for all to enjoy and renew your Vows too (Tent 1)
3:30 pm – Dixie Rose Relief Society tells you about the CS soldiers nursing needs (Tent 2)
4:00 pm – The 2nd South Carolina String Band performs for your entertainment (Tent 1)
4:30 pm – Meet the Confederate Generals at a War meeting (Tent 2)
6:00 pm – Battle: “Crossroads of Destiny” US & CS Troops Pour into Battle on the First Day
7:00 pm – Ghostly Encounters of Gettysburg with Johlene Riley and Chris Taylor (Tent 1)

Mel and I arrived in time to first, wait in line to park, then wait in line at the ticket booth.  Once we entered the gates, it kind of felt like Disneyland, or what I would expect Disneyland to feel like, having never been.  There were people everywhere with fanny packs, kids on leashes, and not nearly enough water.  The organizing committee had expected upwards of 300,000 visitors and I’m certain they were all there on that day and had brought friends.

The organizing committee had also not organized the flow of traffic well, so everyone coming in ran perpendicular to the lines for concessions which ran into the grandstands.  It was a disaster.  I’m good at dodging and weaving so I led the way past the bottleneck to the good stuff.

There was a tent for authors/artists, which had everyone from well-known Civil War artists like Ron Lesser (whom I like a lot better than Dale Gallon*) to writers (usually non-academics with published volumes on their area of interest, eg, the Irish brigade of Vermont**) to local interests, like the Adams County Historical Society.  It was interesting to see the books and pictures, but I didn’t buy anything because I didn’t want to haul around a stack of books for the rest of the day.  My name is not Hermione Granger.  We didn’t stay in the tent for very long because it was about 1000 degrees outside and even hotter inside because there was no air circulation.


Take a look at that image. The smoke and the flag are going in different directions. The bad physics in this painting bother me more than the bad physics in Star Trek.

**The author of that book did get a Master’s degree in military history, but at age 61.


Beyond the artist/author tent was the sutler village.  According to the dictionary, a sutler is: a person who followed an army or maintained  a store on  on an army post to sell provisions to the soldiers.  This little village was row upon row of vendors selling period-appropriate things, from petticoats, to actual dug-up ammunition, to hand-made carpet bags.  Some of these things were more period appropriate than others.  Most items had been marked  up in the hopes of a quick profit.  Again, I didn’t buy anything because while it might seem like a good idea at the time, I probably wouldn’t use the 12 layers of a woman’s dress in real life.

For images of the sutler village, see here and here.

Even further past the sutler village were some Union camps.  These were different than what I had experienced in the past because these people weren’t engaging with the public that was wandering through.  They were very clearly reenactors, there to have fun with their friends, not necessarily to educate the public.  Both Mel and I felt a little self conscious, dressed in shorts and t-shirts and thoroughly modern.  We got some strange looks as we passed through.  (These camps were for part of the Irish Brigades and the Black Hats, if you were wondering.)

We retraced our steps through the camp and through the sutler village.  On the other side of the sutlers were more camps, but these were filled with living historians, those interested in interacting with the public.  Randomly, we saw the guy from the 1st PA Bucktail Sharpshooters whom I had met the previous year at the 2nd Bull Run/Manassas anniversary.  This is probably his unit, but I’m not sure.  He is definitely not with these guys because the groups are professionally territorial over the claim to the “Bucktail” affiliation.  We stopped and said hi.  He remembered me from last year.  His wife (who was Susan B. Anthony last year) wasn’t there because it was too hot for sane people to be out and about.  He asked why we weren’t dressed up and we said, more or less, we weren’t ready to commit and weren’t sure where we would fit in with the whole scheme of things.  He said there were plenty of places for women, and for reference pointed to his neighbor, a young woman reading a book underneath the shade of a lacy parasol.  Unconvinced, we changed the topic to the event itself, something he wouldn’t miss for the world.  (But one can’t really be a Civil War reenactor and miss the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg.)  It was a good chat.

After we finished our conversation, Mel and I went to his other neighbor, who happened to be none other than Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain himself.  Unsurprisingly, he was receiving quite a bit of traffic, thanks to the film Gettysburg and the novels written by the Shaara men.  Mel and I (whose friendship was founded on an appreciation for all things Lawrence) never got a chance to speak with him directly, but we didn’t need to.  The majority of the people passing through only knew the character’s popular image, and this guy was explaining more about his life, except this was information Mel and I already knew.



It was vaguely interesting to hear everything from a “firsthand” account, but it was also distracting because of the way the actor spoke.  He would say things like, “And the 20th Maine – we was fightin’ and then we hads to move -” It was this that ruined the game of pretend because the real Lawrence was a professor of rhetoric IRL and was quite elegant with words.  We had to get pictures with him (because it’s Chamberlain after all), but I was less than impressed.  This is not to detract from his knowledge of his character, the time spent researching or the funds spent acquiring a kit, the pressure of being one of the most well-known and popular mainstream Civil War characters, or of constantly being evaluated against Jeff Daniels’ portrayal of the same.  Those smaller details were all spot on, but I just couldn’t buy into it.  I’m pretty good at playing pretend with all the other guys, but not this one.  Sorry, dude.


Next time, I’ll ask him about the pressure.

Beyond him was the alley where all the generals from the aforementioned groups had set up camp.  The first(?) person we stopped to speak with was General Hancock.

This picture is from GB two years ago. His shirt is even white. *giggle*

This man was very well spoken and much more believable.  If you ignored the fact that he was about 30 years too old and had a bad dye job, I thought he inhabited Hancock’s character pretty well.  We had seen him last year and, like last year, everything I had wanted to say or ask flew out of my head.  Mel did a decent job covering while I regained my cool, and we had a nice talk.  I don’t think we ever got his real name.  IRL, the actor is a lawyer in Florida.  Gettysburg 150 was his last event with the Federal Generals Corps because, he said, no amount of hair dye would make him look as young as the real Hancock again, but he’d still continue doing local appearances in the south, especially of Hancock’s service in Florida during the Seminole War.  He said he remembered us from last year and might have said it was unusual to see two young women interested in this kind of thing but I could be making that up because I’ve been hearing that a lot lately.  I remember asking him why he picked Hancock, how he got into the hobby, how long he’d been interested in the Civil War, how he found the Federal Generals Corps.  All I remember is that he had the deepest respect for Hancock and hoped he was doing the real Hancock proud.

This is where those notes would have come in handy.

It won’t be the same without him next year when there is a new Hancock in the lineup or none at all.


The Officers’ camp, looking South. The Union is right behind me.

Mel and I wandered through the generals’ camp.  There was a tent from the Coldstream Guards, the British unit from which Sir Arthur Fremantle hailed.  Fremantle was a sort of tourist and spent 3 months with the Confederacy, witnessing Gettysburg.  In the movie, he was a total dweeb and was portrayed as an official representative of the Queen when in fact, he was on his own time.  If the Queen had, in fact, acknowledged the Confederate States as a sovereign nation, it would have created the opportunity for the South to ally itself with foreign countries, gain valuable resources blocked by the North (shoes, money, men.)  Because the South ultimately surrendered because they just ran out of resources (especially men), a foreign alliance could have dramatically altered the outcome.


The British are certainly tidy. I don’t recall the story behind the different uniforms.

Further down the row, confusingly, was Sherman.  William Tecumseh Sherman, General Grant’s BFF, spent the whole war in the south and west, and is best known for burning Atlanta.  I suppose if you’re a Civil War living historian, you’ll be at the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg, no matter what.  Stonewall Jackson was also there, so I suppose it evens out.


If I knew more about him, Sherman might be my favorite. After Hancock.

At the end of the row, we ducked under an empty tent flap and sat to cool down.  The temperature was hovering around 100 and there was little shade, so this was a nice reprieve.  Across the row from us was “Jeb Stuart”, totally chilling out in shorts and a t-shirt.  At one point, his wife (in full costume) told him to put his flag out, but first he had to put in the flag holder.  The thing would not go into the ground so he was jumping on it and nearly falling over.  It was amusing.  Then he changed into costume before opening shop.


Missing something important, Stuart?

We probably sat there for half an hour, reapplying sunscreen and eating some granola packs I brought.  There is a large gap in my memory because next, we were lining up at the grandstand for the big battle reenactment.  We didn’t have grandstand seating so we had to get there early to ensure we got decent sideline seats.  Then we took turns coming down with “heat sickness” so the lady in the first aid tent would give us free water and/or let us sit in the stands (which worked last year).  They weren’t as nice this year.  They said I could go buy water and gave me a cold paper towel to put on my head.  And we didn’t get free grandstand seating (which was another $10 or $15 on top of the tickets we had purchased to get in).

Just from rewatching it, I couldn’t tell you which particular part of the battle they were depicting.  At one point it seemed like they were doing Little Round Top, but it’s hard to tell because the reenactment was on a flat surface and the key to LRT was that it was down a steep hill.  There was a narrator but I tuned him out.  The pace of the battle in real time was slower than the movies would make one think and so the narrator would fill the transitional periods with random tidbits.  Admittedly it was probably a difficult job, trying to simplify it for people who didn’t know a thing, while not totally condescending to the lifelong scholars in the stands.  The battle actually started half an hour late because one of the Confederates went down with the heat and they had to send a medical team out to retrieve him and pack him in ice before the could begin.

But the wait in the heat and direct sunlight was totally worth it.  From watching all the players move into position to the artillery barrage to watching the units moving around, I was able to get a better scope of the unit formations and movements.  There were something like 15,000 reenactors there, enough to create whole brigades and even full divisions.  I know the leaders of each reenactment group had been planning and coordinating with each other for months, and their hard work paid off.

 Rather than describe it, I took a lot of video footage.  The gaps in the video are because I had to frantically jettison everything in my dropbox and phone memory to make room for all the video.  I liked how the battle started with the National Anthem.  It was quite appropriate, considering it was the quintessential American battle and the Fourth of July.

Day 1: Marching out

Day 1: Battle!

And with that, day 1 had ended.  Stay tuned for day 2…


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s