(Please note, all the pictures featured in this blog post are my digital property and cannot be used for any purpose–commercial, personal, or otherwise–without my permission. Thanks! )
I just returned home from a great (and blistering) three days at the 150th Anniversary reenactments at Gettysburg. I have been wanting to blog these incredible series events but I did not have regular internet access where I was staying and I had to keep my phone off most of the time to conserve battery life so I could take pictures. I have decided, after some consideration, to blog about each days’ experiences rather than lump them all up together (though I will keep it all on one blog for convenience).
Let me preface this by making it clear that I have a lot of experience with reenacting events. I had been a reenactor for years in the past and have been a part of a series of campaigns. I know what it is like from the standpoint of a reenactor and a spectator both and I think this brings me a unique perspective on the weekend’s expectations. I suspected that we would need lots of water, that we would be doing a lot of walking, that we would be otherwise hot and I fully expected traffic to be ridiculous. So for a week prior to the trip, I researched. I looked up bus routes (and Gettysburg was offering free[!] bus and shuttle service everywhere for the anniversary period), event schedules (hourly), water availability (Gettysburg National Military Park was offering water for free at various locations throughout the battlefield), maps…. I did not want to get there and be miserable. Events like this happen once, maybe twice, in a lifetime.
I knew about Gettysburg’s tick problem (and they have a tick problem), so I checked out consumer report’s stats on tick repellant and i even bought some clothes from Insect Shield so that I was extra protected without having to constantly reapply spray with high concentrations of DEET every few hours. I watched the weather updates for the week (every day it changed–legitimately, every day there was a different forecast) and made sure that sunscreen and a proper hat with a wide brim were purchased and available (my companions had the sunscreen–more on that further on).
There were six people total in my group and we absconded from the Lehigh Valley on our way to this once-in-a-lifetime event. We had purchased general admission tickets into the event and also grand stand seating for three days, which enabled us to get prime views of all seven reenactments that were scheduled for the three days we were going to be there. To be clear, this will primarily be a photo blog.
The drive from where I live to Gettysburg is about 2.15 hours, but since Gettysburg hotels were ALL charging $300 a night (seriously–every hotel in and around town agreed to charge the same amount of money, and a lot of it, for some devious reason or another) we stay with family in Lancaster County. We all arrive late in the evening and rush to bed; it’s an early day coming and a long one at that.
Day 1 – Thursday, July 4, 2013
Thursday was a bit of a mess. Waking up early, we didn’t have a chance to eat. Under the impression we were going to stop on the way, we took off with travel mugs full of coffee and loaded up our bags with snack food and necessities. Unfortunately, we didn’t stop on the way, much to the disagreement of our grumbling stomachs. Reenactment event parking was at two primary locations: the High School and HACC (Harrisburg Area Community College) Gettysburg Campus. We decided on HACC because of its central location and were politely directed to the parking area by an army of volunteers. But it seemed that the first day lacked a bit of coordination.
When we got to the line for the shuttle meant to bring us from HACC to the reenactment site (on a huge farm north of Gettysburg), some of the people were rather disturbed that they had to wait. One family was so annoyed they wouldn’t shut up about it and complained incessantly for 20 minutes about how there weren’t as many buses and no one had any answers. We stood behind them giving each other sly glances–it’s a huge event with 200,000+ spectators expected with hundreds of little logistical nightmares that had to be dealt with and, frankly, it was the first day. It happens. People need to adjust and adapt and correct and complaining about it solved absolutely nothing. Soon enough, buses did show up and from there we were off!
Or so we thought.
The bus routes had not been set up well initially; they had the buses travel through a residential area which meant that traffic had been backed up for a few miles–the sun had already become unbearable (it was already 83 degrees at 9:30 AM and near 100% humidity). It was sweltering weather. Sitting in a hot, unconditioned bus with a family in front of us (still complaining) was not ideal for anyone. Still, I did what good people do; I sat there and dealt with it so I could blog about it later.
We applied sunscreen vigorously and graciously all over exposed skin and I pulled out the best rated tick repellant I could find and sprayed myself some more. I hate ticks. Ticks scare the crap out of me.
Onward to the reenactment. We made it into the site and noticed immediately that there was an abundance of water available–priced high at $3 but they didn’t stop anyone from bringing in their own bottles. To the credit of the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee, they really tried to think of everything.
After a short wait to get into the grandstand seating, we found some great viewing spots and prepared to take as many photos as we could. And we did.
The first reenactment portrayed the early morning fight between the Union cavalry (mainly dismounted) north of Gettysburg and Confederate infantry which had arrived in town to look for shoes:
For perspective, here is the actual part of the battlefield that this reenactment portrays:
And here is what this image represents (the blue lines represent Union troop placements):
- Confederates attack from this region.
- Union cavalry under General Buford stalls confederate advances from this position.
- Confederate infantry also attacks from this treeline.
- Confederate artillery is placed here.
- The Union cavalry is eventually supported by infantry that arrives later in the day.
- The area is hotly contested until the Union line eventually pulls back to Cemetery Ridge.
Video taken of part of the reenactment:
After the battle was over–the longest we attended–we toured the event area for a bit. We decided, reluctantly, that after roasting in the sun all morning and into afternoon it was time to head into town and find some real food and some air conditioning (but not before I purchased a Berdan’s sharpshooter forage cap from a sutler there). Alas it would not be a short walk to the buses to get back to our cars at HACC. As part of the ‘growing pains’ of the first day, buses were caught in the flow of cars in the residential area and so there was a huge (and I mean long, dammit) line that stretched back to the event area. We waited a good 40 minutes to get onto a bus; the traffic back to HACC was just as horrible leaving on the first day as it was getting to the event earlier that morning. Thankfully town traffic was not too terrible. We had some fun doing a local ghost tour (why not?) and getting some Olde Tyme photos taken, then retired for the night.
Day 2 – Friday, July 5, 2013
The next morning started earlier than the first. We drug ourselves out of bed and applied a healthy amount of aloe lotion to our sunburned skin. This time, we made sure to stop for breakfast. Whn getting on route 15, we were pleasantly surprised that the traffic into town was very light and this time HACC had a large amount of buses waiting (which meant we didn’t have to) and a change in the route to the event meant that we got there in 15 minutes instead of 30 minutes (which was nice and the breeze through the windows did wonders to cool us off).
We had been very lucky the first day with picking the ‘right’ grandstands so we decided to take our chances on the other grandstand area. As with the day before, we waited in a short line before being allowed into the seating area. The sun was to our backs but we could all feel the sunscreen vanishing as we sat there sweating (remember: we’re all in a refrigerator). We put up with it, however, as we knew the payoff would be spectacular. This would be one of the few occasions where we would see a very large cavalry battle (something like 500-900 cavalry engaged in one area). And we would not be disappointed.
After the battle, we had some serious time to kill. And man, it was miserable.
The one complaint I had that I felt was serious was that between the events, the anniversary committee had not thought to do more to keep the spectators busy and cool. Water can only do so much and there just wasn’t enough shade for everyone. And where there was shade, we had to trek up a huge hill in blistering heat and humidity to get there. So we sat, bored, under the shade of the woods in the far end of the event area where the horses and cavalry were encamped (which, granted, was pretty cool).
Interestingly, while wearing my Berdan’s Sharpshooter forage cap, I was constantly being approached by strangers. Some thought it prudent to quiz the hell out of me (I guess they felt I had to earn the right to wear it–which was fine, but they didn’t have to be jerks about it). Someone approached me as I was applying yet another glob of sunscreen and asked, “Do you know who made that hat you’re wearing?” “Um, I bought it at a sutler above the camp,” I replied. He gave me a stern look, to which I asked, “Are you referring to Berdan?” And he nodded, so I qualified with “Yes, for the 1st and 2nd US Sharpshooters.” He looked satisfied and said, “Nice hat,” before walking away.
There were some things to do outside the shade, but “outside the shade” was the issue. We did get a look at Jeff Shaara though, who was graciously signing book after book, despite the savage humidity, in the authors and artists tent (it was not very cool in there either). We returned then to our shaded spot; some fell asleep for a few hours while the rest of us did little else but wander in and out of the spot to see some of the vast encampments throughout the area.
After a roasting five hours of waiting with nothing really to do, we got back into line and waited for the day’s next big event: the battle at the wheatfield! All of us were burned up and ready to go so we sat at the other grandstand area closer to the exit and waited. And we did not wait long. Soon the artillery set up in front of us started thundering away and the infantry began their movements. The air was thick with the ripping sound of volleys from muskets and the roar of canon. It was legend–wait for it…
…DARY! It was spectacularly awesome. I wish I had gotten some more pictures, but here are some of the best.
The Wheatfield Reenactment:
To give you some perspective here are some shots from the actual Wheatfield on the Gettysburg battlefield:
Here are two short videos I uploaded of the Wheatfield battle reenactment.
This battle took place on the second day at Gettysburg, on July 2, 1863. Here is some perspective; a panoramic view of the Union line from the confederate position on Seminary Ridge:
And an explanation:
- Seminary Ridge
- The Sherfy House
- The Pennsylvania Monument on Cemetery Ridge
- The Peach Orchard
- Little Round Top
- Big Round Top
Here is a view of the area of the battlefield where the fighting eventually came to a close on July 2 after moving through the Wheatfield:
Here is an explanation of the photo above:
- Wheatfield (behind the trees)
- Valley of Death
- Little Round Top
- The Slaughter Pen
- Big Round Top
- Devil’s Den
At this point it was about 7 PM and everyone was sweaty, burnt worse than the first day, and exhausted. I imagine the reenactors felt even worse–at least they had an abundance of free water and shaded tents to retreat to (what little comfort they might be in the humidity of the day)–and we just wanted to head home. As with our morning commute, the trip back to HACC on the second day was much smoother and faster than on the first. We just assumed that the people doing all the complaining that first morning had gone to the headquarters of the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee and, in a hostile takeover, instituted policies that worked (because they knew it all, obviously).
Two of our party decided to head into town again and ‘ghost hunt’ while the rest of us sought a fast food place to get some much-needed rest and food. Later that evening we received text messages from our friends in town that around Warrior Stadium the camera that we’d been using all week had stopped working and the second they left the area of the stadium it began functioning normally again. It is said (though probably not true as I cannot confirm this anywhere) that a mass grave of soldiers was found on the site of the Warrior Stadium upon its construction and that cameras do tend to stop working in that area often. My friends returned shaken from their experiences around midnight.
Day 3 – Saturday, July 6, 2013
Day three; early to rise after another restless sleep (mainly due to the painful sunburn). After breakfast and coffee we were off again for a third day. We had only planned to remain for one reenactment as the weather was just too brutal for us to stand another full day–which was unfortunate since the Culp’s Hill reenactment looked to be pretty spectacular. But wiser heads remained and we planned accordingly.
We had collected a veritable freezer of empty water bottles over the two previous days and had stuffed about seven of them–refilled and frozen overnight–into a 150th commemorative tote bag that we purchased (for the low price of $3) on the first day. We were pretty much veterans at this point; we sat amused at the excited comments from people who had only just arrived–many without any water or sunscreen or adequate apparel to block the sun–about what an awesome day it was going to be. Sure, the reenactments were amazing and the reenactors did an incredible job. But without water and sunscreen and neck protection, people were going to be miserable (‘they’re gonna to have a bad time’ as the South Park ski instructor says).
The reenactment was a somewhat different scenario (portraying another cavalry battle that took part on Day 3 of the actual battle in 1863) but the sun forced us to leave the grand stand seating early. Still, we did get some excellent shots of the grand review! Then it was off to the battlefield for some perspective. But not before we handed over four of our grand stand seating tickets to a family with two children. We sincerely hope they enjoyed the reenactment!
Some shots from around the battlefield:
The Monument and Me
There was also a very emotional moment for me while we were wandering around; we came across the monument of the 153rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment at Barlow’s Knoll, which saw some heavy fighting on the first day of the battle. I knew of the monument prior to our coming to Gettysburg as one of my distant ancestors, Absalom Schall (and ‘adopted’ 5th Great Grandfather), fought in the regiment and was wounded by shrapnel during the engagement there.
It was a bit of an emotional experience for me, being so close to an ancestor who had fought and was wounded at the battle that had become so infamous. After a few moments of admiration, I planted the flag of my hometown, Easton, at the site of the monument in remembrance of the regiment (and, in particular, Absalom) which had formed in Easton, Pennsylvania and marched south from there in 1862.
After a long and emotional few days, we enjoyed some great food at the Appalachian Brewing Company near Lee’s HQ and then began our commute back home to the Lehigh Valley. It was a fantastic and once-in-a-lifetime event and I was very glad to have had the opportunity to attend. I want to give my most heartfelt thanks to the wonderful volunteer staff and the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee for putting together the event and to all the reenactors who were friendly and patient with all the crazy questions that I’m sure they were asked (Overheard question to a reenactor from one very excited person: “Which side did George Washington fight on?”). I have lots of fantastic memories that I hope to bring with me when I come to the 200th anniversary in the future.
Finally, here are some of the photos of the various reenactments above, Instagram’d!
Loot from the weekend:
Please note, all the pictures featured in this blog post are my digital property and cannot be used for any purpose–commercial, personal, or otherwise–without my permission. Thanks!