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AAR: Gettysburg, July 1st-3rd, 1863 · 2:12am Jul 8th, 2023

Hello all! This is my recap of what all happened at Gettysburg, now that I’m slightly less tired. My mother had never been, so we camped out a few days before the reenactment and played tourist for a few days. In the end we spent six days there, and let me tell you, that is a long time to be away from home. Ok, one of those days was mostly getting there, so maybe more like five. Still, I think it’s maybe been the longest I’ve been away since back in 2016 when I went to Japan. I… need to get out more.

Anyways, this year was the 160th Anniversary of the Battle, and it was just crazy to be there so close to the days that things were happening, in the place where everything happened. Every other time I have been to Gettysburg, it was a different season than the one in which the battle was fought (spring and fall respectively). Being there is the summer, in the heat and humidity, really gives you a different perspective on what the men that fought there were going through.

I spent my first day in Gettysburg visiting the town, which I’ve not really had a chance to explore before. It is a really lovely place, and I was impressed with the historic architecture there, though I thought some of it could use some TLC (but that’s what I think of everything now thanks to my Preservation classes!). I also visited Dirty Billy’s Hats! Billy is well known in the reenacting community for making truly high end replicas of period hats. I have one myself, which was made almost 20 years ago. I bought it used, that was the only way I could afford it! Anyways, the lining in it needed to be changed as it had started to come out. Since I knew I was going to be in town anyways, I decided to take it to the shop and get in repaired. I had the good fortune of having it replaced by the man himself! And for a very reasonable $5 no less. I also discussed with him what to do about another hat, made by Tim Bender who is also well known in the hobby, which has some issues resulting from the lining not being colorfast… anyways it was great to speak with and meet him, and learn quite a bit about hat making.

We also visited The Horse Soldier, and antique shop that might as well be a museum, the prices were so high. But really the collection there was amazing and I enjoyed getting close up pictures of various rare original artifacts that were there. From original uniforms, to swords, to guns, to even canteens, the collection there is definitely worth a look for any visitor to the town.

That afternoon, we visited the Gettysburg NPS Visitor center, with it’s amazing Cyclorama and museum. I really enjoyed the museum, especially as someone who now knows a little about exhibit design. The mountings to various, terribly delicate, artifacts and the lengths gone to conserve and display some objects that were barely noticeable was most impressive. I know, I know, I’m that kind of museum nerd.

Anyways, I really think the highlight is seeing the Cyclorama. It’s an enormous painting made in the 1880s of Picket’s Charge on July 3rd 1863, the climax of the battle, and it’s designed to be a sort of 19th century VR, using the optical illusions of a canvas draped in a toroid shape to give an illusion of depth. This illusion is aided by diorama elements in the foreground. Viewers emerge from below onto a massive viewing platform in the 100 foot diameter building the Cyclorama is displayed in, and modern lighting and sound effects illuminate the piece, followed by a brief period where it’s shown in more natural light. Whilst that’s probably to reduce fading, it’s not quite what the artist intended and it also means you get a relatively brief time with the piece… and I really wish there was a way to afford viewers more time with the piece given it’s massive size and level of detail.

Anyways, I wound up purchasing a fascinating book on the Cyclorama, as well as a book about Artillery at Gettysburg. Both are excellent, and i’ve really enjoyed learning about Cycloramas in general and the one from Gettysburg specifically. For example, what it usually not said about the Cyclorama, is that is actually one of a series of four produced by the same artist with slight variations on the same scene. It’s more or less the only one that survives, but apparently there is another which survives that is a counterfeit version by another artist, because even in it’s time the Gettysburg Cyclorama was judged to be the best of the genre. Also, there is an original Cyclorama of a Napoleonic battle in Belgium that remains on display.

I spent the last day before the reenactment taking my mom to the key point of the battlefield: the Peach Orchard, the Wheatfield, the Confederate positions, the High Water Mark. Lots of fun! I also got a nice look at the field from the top of the Pennsylvania monument, an chatted with a fellow reenactor who was a Confederate drummer for a bit.

The reenactment itself was held on the outskirts of Gettysburg, at a place called Daniel Lady’s Farm on Brenner’s Hill, which was a Confederate field hospital and the site of some fight on the first day of the battle. So technically we were on the battlefield, but not the “main” one everyone thinks about. Visiting Gettysburg again really brings me to the conclusion that the idea of there being a singular battlefield at Gettysburg is inaccurate, because the fighting took place, as the saying goes “in and around” the town at some many different locations, so really anywhere has equal claim to being part of the battlefield.

The entirety of our umbrella group, the US Artillery Reserve, showed up, and the Union Artillery reenactors were able to field some 22 cannon for the battle! The camp was enormous, and when we took the field we fired as a battalion, in contrast to our usual strength where it’s a good day when we can field a section (about two cannons) at most. The Confederates had 28 guns, and they even fired an full salvo all at once which was truly a sight to behold. The show stoppers were an Union group that brought an original Light 12lb Gun, and a Confederate group who brought along a pair of reproductions of the Williams Gun, an early hand-cranked automatic cannon. You know we just had to go spy on their new secret weapon!

I think my performance as an artillerist was really good throughout the three days of hard fighting. I spent the first two days in my preferred position of No 3, and got some good results especially helping the gunner aim the gun. There’s nothing so satisfying as pushing on the trail spike with just your leg, and getting the whole cannon to smoothly pivot into an oblique firing position on the enemy! I also served in the No 2 and No 4 position on the last day, and was particularly pleased that I got to fire off a shot at Pickets Charge as they came over the recreated “Bloody Angle” stone wall out in the field. An NCO board was also convened at the event, and I finally got my rank as a private restored, although I was a bit miffed I didn’t get promoted to corporal after all my hard work. My fellow “new” members made corporal and sergeant respectively, and although I’m being fast tracked to the Quartermaster position next year and the QM Sargent rank that goes along with it, I still feel it’s a bit irregular.

One nice touch to the reenactment experience was mail call: we each received a period letter to read from the event organizers. This caused much hilarity in camp as we shared our news from home. Apparently, I have a daughter and two sons I didn’t know about. Also, an unnamed wife who sent me jams and candies and what not! I’ll have to type up the letter I received, and write a response to it, here at some point. But I don’t have the time tonight, alas.

There was one moment the reenactment that just about gave the entire Union Artillery a heart attack, during the first day’s battle. Our cannons have a safety zone in front of them, of 75 yards. Although we don’t fire projectiles, muzzle blast and flying shards of foil from out cartridges are no joke, so for safety we always have a nice little zone in front of the guns marked with little orange flags out in the field. The understanding with the Infantry is that they should never enter that zone when the guns are loaded, for this reason. Sometimes, they are scripted to overrun us, but in such cases they have to visually confirm it is safe to do so. So, some genius infantry commander decided to order his color bearers to run right into the safety zone in front of the cannons! We were literally in the middle of loading, and yelled at them “Hot Guns! Hot Guns! Stop!”… so naturally what else did they do but run closer to the guns. Needless to say, my Captain, followed by the rest of Artillery high command, were soon in front of them with choice words. It was definitely one of the scarer moments in my reenacting career, and every one in the battery was received when it was over. A Confederate Cavalryman even materialized to chase the color bearers off the field. Evidently, choice words were also had with the infantry command by the artillery that night at HQ… which may explain why the next day we were placed in a position so far away could hardly see the infantry battle we were supposedly supporting! I sort of feel bad for some of the kids who were following the older guy with the flag… but what he was thinking lord only knows. “We were under orders.” is a crappy excuse to ignore well-established safety protocols, especially when those orders are pretend. And, as color bearers, it wasn’t like they were going to get away with it!

Anyways, being part of probably one of the largest assemblages of cannons in the last decade at Gettysburg, and getting to experience over three days what those men would have faced was definitely a experience I’ll remember for years to come. I really enjoyed both the reenactment and the opportunity to explore more of Gettysburg than I have had the chance to in the past, and of course take lots and lots of pictures.

So now you all know where I was last week, and why I've been a bit silent this week. Although, as PresentPerfect said to me "dude "I was at Gettysburg" is the best excuse for not having done something.".

Anyways, tomorrow I’ll be at TrotCon, and I’ll be excited to see my irony friends once again! Looking forward to it.

Comments ( 2 )
Author Interviewer

have fun at Trotcon! :D

Sounds like you had a great time at Gettysburg. I’d like to visit it one day, especially during the reenactment. I imagine being there in the summer did give you a tremendous feel for the conditions that the soldiers faced and endured those three days.

Hope you have a good time at TrotCon. Take care!

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