Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Guest Post by Ray: July 1 in Gettysburg

July 1st at Gettysburg
This would be our third day of our trip, the anniversary of the first day of the battle. While waiting for Chris to return from an errand, Eric and I were entertained by an agile squirrel who found steel bars to be no obstacle in his quest for calories.

Again we drove in from the campground. Our intention was to park at the lots near the old Cyclorama building (now razed, not a trace left) but they were totally packed. But we knew of overflow parking nearby and got a spot there. It was very overcast as we started our walk toward the Pennsylvania Monument and the Union encampment. We fully expected rain. We were wrong.

The previous night there had been a big doings in the area of Meade’s Headquarters. Judging by the huge piles of chairs it must have been a big success. Trace Adkins (I suspect he is a country singer) sang the National Anthem and Doris Kearns Goodwin (author of Team of Rivals, serious baseball fan, the lust object of all serious history geeks) gave the keynote address. Later we heard from someone who attended that her speech was political which I took to mean that she said something with which the redneck disagreed. I suspect she might have come out against slavery.

We stopped at the High Water Mark and had some discussion about whether the limbers were historically accurate. Questioning artillery reenactors led us to believe they were done right. I will spare you the details of our talk concerning Cushing’s battery, the 69th Penna. Infantry, and whether or not the 72nd Pennsylvania monument should be where it is. But I will tell you that a few days previously, high winds blew the bronze statue off its plinth. As the photo shows, his musket is now bent. The Park Service monument crew did yeoman work to get him restored in time for the big crowds. I was told by an NPS maintenance worker that originally the statue was not bolted down. Rather it was assumed the gravity would keep the 1500 pound figure in place.

We slowly walked along the line that repelled Pickett’s men and I told the story of “Double Canister at 10 Yards”, which is carved into Cowan’s battery’s monument. Just then a passerby piped in with a comment about artillery. He turned out to be a wounded Marine veteran of the Iraq war. He said he was in the artillery so I asked “Tenth Marines?” This is one of the Marine artillery regiments. The guy replied, “No, I was in the 3rd battalion of the 14th Marines.” I retorted “Golf, Hotel, or India battery?” He was taken aback by my obvious familiarity with that unit. I explained that my old college roommate, Lieutenant Colonel (at that time) Gunter, commanded the 3rd of the 14th in the late 90’s and that I had gone shooting with him. Talk about your small world and unbelievable coincidences. Further talk revealed that he had brain damage from his wound and he was hazy about details since the IED got him. We talked more of Civil War artillery and then parted with a handshake and a sincere “thank you for your service.”

The walk continued as we got into the area where the Vermont regiments outflanked Pickett’s attack and dealt severe blows to the Virginians. And inevitably someone asked what that monument out in the field by itself was. Eric said that was where General Hancock was shot. Finishing the old gag, I said, “I thought he was shot in the leg.” Getting near the Pennsylvania Monument we saw a demonstration of artillery going on. Never missing a chance to see the big guns being fired, I went that way and managed the timing to get a photo just as the cannon was fired, showing the smoke rising from the touchhole. There was a whole battery, that is, 6 guns. Three bronze 12 pounder Napoleons, two iron 3 inch ordnance rifle, and a 10 pounder Parrott. This last, by the way, was General Reynolds' preferred piece. How do I know that? He told me that on Saturday. The bronze Napoleons were shiny, unlike the ones on display on the battlefield which are all green now. I wonder if they punish the bad rangers by sending them out there with a rag and ten gallons of Brasso.

Going back near the Pennsylvania Monument we could see a regimental sized body (about 300 men) of infantry reenactors lining up. They were wearing a red trefoil on their hats, marking them as the First Division of the 2nd Corps. Of course, this symbol looks just like the clubs in a deck of playing cards, hence the 2nd Corps motto, “Clubs are Trump!”

There was a Sergeant in this group who looked like he might have actually been at the real battle. Reenactors come in all shapes and sizes and ages.

We watched them form up, get inspected, and get their orders. In the real battle this unit took a pounding while trying to repel Longstreet’s assault. They marched across the road and while someone narrated, they went through the drills of loading and firing. They fired by ranks, by regiment, by company, and then they fired at Will. Poor bastard, someone is always firing at Will but apparently he never gets hit.

I wanted to get up close for this so I aimed for a spot on the fence where a cute girl wearing fluorescent orange shoelaces were sitting. Not that this girl needed an attention getting device if you know what I mean. I stood next to her and started some banter. The guy to my left spoke to his son to his left and said “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that was Ray Beimel.” I turned and saw Doug Kuntz, one of the local railroad gang. A thousand people lining that fence and I fetch up to the one guy from St. Marys.

After the demonstration was finished, we walked back toward the monument again. There were a couple of mounted Pennsylvania State Police in the field and we went over to talk with them. They were friendly and introduced us to their horses, Flash, Billy, Samson, and the one whose name I forgot. The horses were big, really big for riding horses. I asked what breed they were and they told me hybrid draft horses. That is all the better for crowd control. I was about to make some joke about big horses for big troopers but seeing as they were packing heat, I suppressed that thought. They told us the crowd was well behaved and they were mostly doing public relations. Samson was the biggest of the horses so I took a picture of him alone. That’s the Pennsylvania Monument in the background of the next picture.

We looked around the Union encampment for a bit and then Eric and I went up the spiral staircase to the top of the Pennsylvania Monument, the largest on the battlefield. The view from the top is good and showed both the size of the encampment and also the traffic on Hancock Avenue.

When we came back down Chris of course was surrounded by people. We wanted to say clever things like “he’s harmless but it’s time for his meds now” and “don’t make any sudden moves, he scares easily.” But we didn’t.

As they say in the F Troop theme song “when drilling and fighting get them down they know their morale can droop…” In this case marching in the hot sun brings on a well deserved nap.

And of course, in a military camp, somebody has guard duty. In this case it was a soldier in one the Zouave units. They were volunteer infantrymen but they had the fancier uniforms based on that of units in the French army.

Eric had to leave that evening to get back to start his summer job on Tuesday and it was a long walk to the car so we left the battlefield earlier than usual. Before he left, we posed for a group photo in front of the Tin Can. No timer this time, my new camera has a remote control.

Once Eric headed back to Virginia, Chris grilled up some good hamburgers for dinner. I took another dip in the cool pool. We played Scrabble until bedtime and again I slept the sleep of the just.\

That’s day three. Two more to go. 

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