Cannon fire and snap-crackle musketry capture the attention when “armies” collide during re-enacted Civil War battles, but after the shooting stops, visitors can learn so much more about the war by visiting the living history folks.
During the July 4-7 Gettysburg 150th festivities out on Table Rock Road, the Living History Village was located on the high ground on “Union Ridge” (my term), beyond the Upper Grandstand. Everyone who was headed for the Union camps to the north passed the village, where the Civil War could get really personal.
Among the personages inhabiting the Living History Village were Confederate officers from “Lee’s Lieutenants” and Union officers” from the “Federal Generals Corps.” We had first encountered both organizations at the mid-September 2012 Antietam 150th festivities in Sharpsburg.
The re-enactors belonging to each organization portray particular Civil War officers, specifically for “educational purposes,” explained Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, a.k.a. Gregory Harlan Russell of Stafford County, Va. The officers do not participate in battle re-enactments; “we’re here to educate visitors about the war and our roles in it,” he said.
“Stonewall” looked great, definitely pre-Chancellorsville with all limbs present and accounted for. He was in demand; we chatted for a few minutes, and other visitors stepped beside him to talk when we stepped away.
Among other Confederate officers staying in the Living History Village were:
• Gen. Henry “Harry” Heth, sporting a bandage around his head after his July 1 wounding out on the Cashtown Pike (more commonly called the Chambersburg Pike today).
• Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon, portrayed by Ron Cole.
• Gen. Richard H. Anderson.
At least Union officer had been promoted since Antietam. David Starliper of Summit, W.Va. accurately and enthusiastically portrayed Lt. Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain at Antietam; here at Gettysburg, “Chamberlain” was now a full colonel. We chatted several minutes with Chamberlain/Starliper and got his take on the affair at Little Round Top.
Maj. Gen. Dan Sickles was relaxing in his camp chair when a baseball cap-wearing young man stopped and asked, “Do you think Dan Sickles made a mistake?” His question obviously referred to the events of July 2, 1863.
Up snapped Sickles’ head. Flashing that pride that had taken him from the New York State Assembly to Congress and later to battlefields from Virginia to Pennsylvania, he targeted his questioner and responded, “I did a great job that day!”
I could only appreciate how Philip Barton Key felt after Sickles caught him with Mrs. Sickles.
A 1st Corps swallowtail guidon painted on his tent sign, Maj. Gen. John Reynolds (a.k.a. Ron Teague) relaxed in his tent, looking much more lively than he did late day on July 1, 1863.
The red-haired John Opdenaker of Quarryville, Penn. portrayed William Tecumseh Sherman, who was rather busy at Vicksburg, Miss. 150 years ago.
I mention the various generals staying in the Living History Village because those visitors who ventured past the Upper Grandstand had multiple opportunities to speak with dedicated re-enactors knowledgeable about their characters and the war.
And the learning extended beyond the generals. Over there a green “H” on a yellow flag identified the field tent belonging to the 2nd Corps Field Hospital, Army of Northern Virginia. Stretched out on a crude operating table was a gold-braided Confederate officer whose right leg “bled” from a severe wound.
The surgeon and his assistants were ready to amputate the leg, although it actually belonged to a well-dressed, realistic-looking mannequin. The good surgeon was interested in sharing with visitors his knowledge of Civil War medicine.
And nearby a young, barefoot Confederate soldier guarded an equally young and barefoot miscreant parading back and forth inside the wooden barrel that he wore suspended from his shoulders. A sign painted on the barrel warned Confederate soldiers, “Don’t Drink or Gamble.”
The malefactor admitted he had been caught drinking on duty. He was suffering a punishment that many soldiers endured on both sides during the war, and he was sharing his sad tale with anyone who would listen.
And, of course, there were other re-enactors in the Living History Village. So much to learn, so little time to do so: Visitors came away with new knowledge after visiting the village at Gettysburg’s 150th.
For more information about Lee’s Lieutenants, log onto www.leeslieutenants.com.
For more information about the Federal Generals Corps, log onto www.federalgeneralscorps.com.
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.