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Monday, July 15, 2013

Battle of Gettysburg 150th Anniversary

Stan and I had the privilege of going to see the last day of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. They had several days planned of re-enactments and seminar speakers. Being during one of the hottest months of the year we decided to just do the last day when they had a cavalry battle re-enactment complete with horses and a re-enactment of Pickett's Charge. We were so excited to see this and it was estimated that it would be the largest Civil War re-enactment event of all time. It was expected that there would be 8,000-12,000 re-enacters complete with weapons, cannons, horses, etc. Re-enactors do this at their own expense as their hobby. It costs a fortune to outfit yourself and your family (that's right, wives and children can also join in) in history perfect outfits and camping gear, not to mention the military accoutrements, weapons, horse tack, etc. Re-enacting groups determine how far they will go to be period perfect. For instance, underwear, glasses, hairstyles, plastic bags, etc. How far do you go to try and mimic the experiences of the period? It's fascinating. Some are very strict. As local groups they decide their own rules. Some 20 years ago we went with my Mom, Dad, Aunt Judy, Elaine, Ronnie, Jenny, Luke and Lee for a wonderful trip. One of our stops was Gettysburg and it was a very moving experience. When we heard about the 150th anniversary that was planned we determined that we had to be there. We will be dead for the 200th anniversary!

We got there late morning just in time to walk in, go up into the grand stands (you had to pay extra for grandstand seats) and see the cavalry battle. I would think 100 horses more or less were involved between the two sides. It had to have been quite difficult for re-enactors to travel in with their horses. The cost of the hobby of horseback riding has become very expensive. You not only purchase the horse and tack but you have to feed, maintain and vet said horses. Then you have to have land, barn and fencing. And you have to purchase truck and horse trailer and gas is so expensive now. A big truck drinks gas especially pulling a trailer full of horses. But enough did so that the rest of us could have the thrill of seeing a little of what it was like.

It was a very hot day with temps at 93-94 degrees Fahrenheit. There was evidently only one way in and one way out. You were not allowed to bring in coolers and large bags for our own protection but this meant we couldn't bring in any food or picnic. It was a long trek back to the cow pasture where we parked and a hot car is not conducive to eating. And, for some reason, they only had 2 or 3 food tents selling hot dogs and sandwiches. Considering there were tens of thousands of people there this was NOT enough. Drinks were hard to get so I got dehydrated and hot. The re-enactor's camps were very far apart. We wanted to walk through them and see their tents. It was a mistake to try to go to both camps as they were too far apart and walking in the heat was a mistake. Then we walked back to the car because there just wasn't any place to sit to wait for Pickett's Charge. So that added to the walking in the heat. We turned the car on and sat in the air conditioning for an hour.

Clouds had begun to accumulate by 3:00pm when the grand finale began. We got in line to get back into the grandstands. They had oversold the grandstands and the line was almost out to the parking lot. These grandstands were scaffolds at least 50' in the air. Once we got in and got our seats, I made the mistake of going back down to go to the bathroom. This put me back in line to get back into the grandstands. I was afraid I wouldn't make it but I did. By then I had been hot, walked too much, climbed those steps twice, was surrounded by too many people and too high up (I have a fear of heights) so I ended up having a panic attack. Fortunately it was mild and Stan kept me together.

At 3:00pm the two sides started bombarding each other with cannon. We got to see an artillery barrage for 30 mins! It was exciting. Then the Southern line began to cross the field in Pickett's Charge. Lee had tried to soften the Yankee line with hours of bombardment but little did he realize that there were still too many Yankees left so that it would make for a massacre of the Rebels.

The re-enactors did a great job even to the Rebel yells. Meanwhile the storm kept coming and we could see it in the distance. As soon as the charge was over, everyone jumped up to get out of those metal stands as quickly as possible. It was orderly but still a rush. Stan and I went straight to the car and as soon as we got in, the bottom dropped out and it rained hard for 3 hrs. We were all stuck in a muddy cow pasture for 3 hours. It wasn't until the rain let up that the volunteers got out and started to direct cars out.

I'm thankful for the experience and I greatly appreciate the re-enactors who made it possible. I appreciate the hard work that was done but it could and should have been better. As for someone who is disabled with fibromyalgia and hypoglycemia, it was a hard day. Not enough food tents to buy food, couldn't bring in food, dehydration because it's hard to get drinks, the walking. We had assumed, since you couldn't bring in coolers and back packs that there would be food tents that you could purchase from. There were only 3 with 3 extra tents for selling water, lemonade and sarsparillo. That was simply not enough. Parking was so far away that going back and forth to the car was difficult for me. The parking was a nightmare. I just really think the logistics for the spectators might could have been better.

I should have taken a picnic with plenty of fluids and ice and left it in the car. I should have only visited one of the re-enactment camps and not tried to walk to the other one. That time and energy then could have been spent sitting in the air conditioned car and eating a picnic. We would have just had to run the car for a couple of hours but at least it was a comfortable place to sit, eat and cool down, nap. There was no such place inside the grounds!!! They had a couple of shade tents but they were so full of people that they ended up being hotter than the open air and were too crowded to find a seat in.

But, again, I'm glad I didn't miss it. It was an experience. Here are the photos that I took.

I loved seeing the smoke rings from the cannons.

The start of Pickett's Charge

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