July 3rd at Gettysburg – Part Two
After our slow walk through town, we finally got to the High Water Mark around 12:30PM. There were already lots of people there waiting for the big event which wouldn’t start until 3. The big event, of course, was the reenactment of Pickett’s (and Trimble and Pettigrew’s) charge. Pickett’s men made up about a third of the assault but his name has been stuck to it ever since. This event was open to anyone who wanted to make the walk. The National Park Service organized them into nine “brigades”, each named after a Confederate general who led a brigade in the battle. On the Union side you could be part of the Hays, Gibbon, or Doubleday divisions.
We got a spot right on the fence slightly to the north of the famous Angle. It was cloudy when we got there but soon enough, the sun was out and blazing. I realized I had no sunscreen with me. I mentioned this to Chris and told him I was going to walk down the line until I saw someone who smelled like coconut oil and then ask them. The lady standing next to us generously offered me some of hers saying, “I’m a white girl too so I know how important that is.” Conversation ensued (isn’t that a surprise?) She was an Occupational Therapist from the state of Washington who came all that way just to be there. I thanked her and told her she had just performed the 8th Corporal Work of Mercy, to give sunscreen to the palefaces. She is the lady with the camera in the photo below.
This is the view along the fence looking southward. There were definitely more spectators there than there were Union troops on the line in 1863. There were roughly 12,000 Confederates charging toward a little over 2000 Yankees in the actual battle. Of course, the Union infantry had considerable help from dozens of artillery pieces well sited by General Henry Hunt.
While waiting for the action to start I noticed that Chris was looking quite photogenic and looking not unlike General Longstreet.
We talked to her and to others nearby. One guy recognized the First Class Scout pin on my hat and asked me if I was going to the Boy Scout Jamboree. I told him no, but I was at the 12th World Jamboree in 1967. He was an Eagle Scout as well and we talked for some time about that fraternity. After that, I told Chris I was going to go walking about to see what I could see, but I only got about 3 feet away when I started talking to a lady college professor from SUNY Albany. She was a fascinating woman with a lot of wise and interesting thoughts on a lot of topics. I didn’t get to do my walk at all because our conversation lasted up until about 3 when the big march started. We could see long lines of people forming up across the way on Seminary Ridge. It had to be something like what the real battle looked like. We saw long lines of people coming out of the woods on the Seminary Ridge side of the valley. A reenactor dressed as Robert E. Lee was leading and the man who talked to Chris earlier in the day was holding the flag right next to him.
As the Rebels approaching Union line, they started with the Rebel yell. The spectators on the Union side spontaneously started shouting “Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg!” just as happened at the actual battle. Once on the Union side everyone was free to mill about as they choose. Some of the brigades crossed north of my position and others crossed to the south. They all mingled together with the Union line spectators in a very harmonious way. Many of them stayed where they could watch other brigades crossing.
And then the great charge was over, no blood, no casualties, no rancor, no anger, just a huge mass of Americans celebrating the anniversary of the great battle that contributed much to reuniting the country. It was quite moving to consider how peaceful this gathering was.
I wandered around a bit afterwards and I ran into General Winfield Scott Hancock himself. He is often spoken of as the best general on either side at that battle. I was pleased to shake his hand, even though he was just a very authentic looking reenactor. We had a moment to converse. I said, “General, you are reputed to be the most profane man in an army full of profane men. Is that true?” He pondered for a moment and finally answered “yes, now that General Zook is dead.” Stepping out of character for a moment, he told me that supposedly Zook and Hancock got into a cursing match and Zook won, but only because Hancock ran out of breath.
It took quite a while for the crowd to disperse. I saw this young lady photographer contorting while using an ancient Vivitar 285 flash unit. I started talking to her, mentioning that I used one of those many years before she was born. She had press credentials and told me she was going to be illustrating a booklet with her photos. I saw another woman holding an umbrella aloft and talking on a cell phone. I think she was trying to meet up with family or friends. I could hear her saying “look for the green umbrella!”
Chris and I walked slowly back through town on sidewalks full of people. We hit the Sunset Ice Cream parlor again for another round of teaberry ice cream. Further along on Baltimore Street we stopped at Ronn Palm’s museum, a huge collection of photographs of soldiers from many different units. I knew Ronn from the dedication of the Company G Monument last year. We had a pleasant chat. Chris and I both bought pins for our hats. Mine was a white trefoil meaning 2nd Division of the 2nd Corps, Gibbon’s men of Hancock’s Corps, the ones who in large measure repulsed Pickett’s Charge. When I run into someone who knows what that pin means, I will know I am in the presence of a kindred spirit.
And amid all the traffic and pedestrians, the horse drawn carriage business was booming. We passed three of them in less than 100 yards. Never able to resist a photo of a good looking draft horse, I had to make this image.
When we got back to the Transit Center, we were not alone in waiting for the bus. The waiting room was air conditioned but most people were quite content to wait patiently outside.
Chris fired up the motor home and I fired up the Escort and we went our separate ways after sharing one of the most enjoyable experiences ever.
I was impressed by many things about this anniversary celebration. The major one was the absolute freedom accorded the visitors. Except for some parking restrictions, there were no new rules. We were free to wander at will as if it was just any other day. There were some NPS people directing traffic, lots of interpretive Rangers about, and an almost invisible law enforcement presence. Of course, I was unable to be everywhere but in all the places I was, there was harmony and good spirits. It was a shared experience for people who appreciated what it all meant.
And the local businesses did not engage in any price gouging that I could see. A bottle of water was still a buck. The ice cream went for the usual price as did the souvenirs and such. Whoever was in charge of this both in town and in the park did their work well. Every contingency seemed to have been thought of. There were porta potties everywhere. Emergency Medical Services were everywhere. Rangers were brought in from everywhere. We personally talked to ones from Harpers Ferry, Cuyahoga Valley, Cape Cod, Spotsylvania, and many more. There was one thing I noticed that was emblematic of how far we have come in 150 years since the battle. Two of the law enforcement personnel I saw were black women. Their presence and authority were accepted without question. The most rabid abolitionist in 1863 could never have imagined such a thing coming to pass.
The whole experience ranks high on the list of the most enjoyable things I have ever done. I had the best of all possible traveling companions. I met and talked with dozens of fine people. I listened enough to learn much and talked enough to share what I knew. Truly, these were days that made me proud to be an American.