Billy Yanks and Johnny Rebs camped a valley apart at Gettysburg’s 150th

Organizers of the “150th Gettysburg Anniversary National Civil War Battlefield Reenactment” sited the event along two ridges and the resultant valley crossed by Table Rock Road a few miles north of Gettysburg. Confederate forces camped along the ridge west of the road, Union forces along the ridge to the east. Perched atop “Union Ridge” was the Upper Grandstand, from which spectators gazed west and northwest across the farm fields and woods where battles took place. Seats in this grandstand and the nearby Lower Grandstand (located downhill and to the southwest) cost an additional $10 per person. (Brian Swartz Photo)

Two months have passed since Pat Horne, Bob Hale, and I arrived in Gettysburg during the 150th anniversary festivities honoring the warriors who fought there in ’63. Let me literally set the stage for one popular aspect of the historic week: an official Civil War re-enactment.

Two such re-enactments of Gettysburg’s 150th anniversary took place, the first on June 28-30 and the second on July 4-7. Pat, Bob, and I attended the latter, titled “The 150th Gettysburg Anniversary National Civil War Battle Reenactment.”

Organizers sited this re-enactment on Table Rock Road, which intersects with Carlisle Road (Route 34) a few miles north of Gettysburg. Where Table Rock Road passes between two ridges — higher than Cemetery or Seminary — the opposing armies established their camps, the Confederates along the mixed open fields and wooded slopes to the west and the Union boys atop the open ridge to the east. Woods covered the northern edge of “Union Ridge” (my designation) and provided good shade for the cavalry and artillery horses.

On the evening of July 4, 2013, spectators stood rows deep and packed the Upper Grandstand and the Lower Grandstand (background) to watch a battle re-enactment just outside Gettysburg. The view looks west from atop “Union Ridge” (my designation) toward Table Rock Road and the visitors’ parking area located on the lower slope of “Confederate Ridge” (again, my designation). The air temperature flirted with 90 degrees. Just visible to the right across Table Rock Road are some Confederate tents. (Brian Swartz Photo)

From the valley created by the ridges, Civil War buffs pulling into the visitor parking area (we never used it, but we walked through it) could see all the re-enactment facilities spreading up and over “Union Ridge.” Nearest and perpendicular to Table Rock Road was the topographically and appropriately named Lower Grandstand, as impressive a grandstand as any found on a Maine collegiate football field. People sitting there (for an additional $10 per person) looked north across the fields and woods where the battles took place.

A farm lane rising uphill behind the Lower Grandstand provided access to vendors along the lower slope and to the ridge top-perched Upper Grandstand, which in its sheer size could rival any collegiate grandstand in northern New England. Set parallel to Table Rock Road, the Upper Grandstand faced west.

Placed near the Upper Grandstand were an Activities Tent, an Authors and Artists Tent, and a Patriotic Tent. A few farm buildings stood behind the Upper Grandstand, and just east of these buildings was the Living History Village.

Of all the Civil War re-enactments that I have attended, this particular one provided the best overall camp and battlefield views. From atop “Union Ridge,” visitors enjoyed excellent views to the west and northwest of Table Rock Road valley and “Confederate Ridge” (my designation), where a hardwood forest obscured most camp sites. Where the ridge’s lower slope emerged from the trees, white tents spread across a fence-enclosed paddock that reached the road. Confederate battle and regimental flags fluttered where specific units had camped.

Atop “Union Ridge,” the hot breeze stirs the national flag of the 125th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment in late afternoon on July 4, 2013. Thousands of re-enactors, including men representing Buckeye State units, converged on Gettysburg for the four-day re-enactment honoring the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. (Brian Swartz Photo)

Throughout the four-day re-enactment, visitors could walk through the various camps and meet and talk with re-enactors. The 90-plus degree heat seemed stifling to shorts- and T-shirt-clad visitors; I cannot imagine how men and women — yes, female re-enactors took up arms on both sides, at least in this modern version of the Civil War — wearing heavy wool could withstand the heat.

We did hear that the morning battle on July 4 ended early after at least one re-enactor passed out on the battlefield.

In late afternoon on July 3, 2013, tough Yankee re-enactors perform squad drill in 90 degree-plus heat at the 150th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg. The four-day event spread across opposing ridges and the connecting farm fields along Table Rock Road north of Gettysburg. (Brian Swartz Photo)

Fortunately for visitors, food vendors were liberally scattered around “Union Ridge.” Cold bottled water and fresh-squeezed lemonade were in high demand, and I discovered that a $5 pulled pork sandwich was best enjoyed in a shady spot.

Beneath the broiling Adams County sun, even a tent’s shadow provided some relief.

During the next few weeks I will discuss various aspects of this particular re-enactment. Organizers pulled out all the stops, except for sufficient water for deployed Confederate re-enactors prior to the evening battle on July 4 (and that situation was quickly remedied), and any visitor who left without learning more about the Civil War simply did not pay attention.

Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jive with Civil War reality. I can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net.