Thursday, July 11, 2013

Guest Post from Ray: July 2 at Gettysburg

July 2 at Gettysburg
It was just Chris and I now that Eric had to go back to work. We decided we would bike again but would haul the bicycles into town. We felt sure we could find parking easily. And we were right. The parking lots at the Lutheran Seminary were very nearly empty. And from there to West Confederate Avenue is but a 90 second ride. Our destination was the Confederate encampment to see how the other half lived. We got there just in time for the infantry demonstration. The Confederates had less than a third as many reenactors as the Union did for their demonstration. We are quite familiar with tactics so we went looking for interesting folks to talk to. Our quest was successful.

This gentleman was dressed as a veteran of the battle who attended the 50th Anniversary Reunion in 1913. That is a very good story in itself. Thousands of veterans from both sides came to town by train, lived in tents, ate outdoors, even as most of them were over 70 years old. And 25 years later, there were still veterans who made the reunion despite being over 90.

He was knowledgeable about the battle and the reunions and made for good talking while the infantry did their thing. There was going to be an artillery demonstration following and those troops were sitting around waiting for their turn. Chris of course found three of them and engaged them in conversation.

The reenactors are always good with being photographed and often enough strike good poses without prompting.

There were a few Confederate women milling about and we started talking to this one. She was a brazen hussy in that she occasionally showed curious tourists what she was wearing under her hoop skirt. Petticoats, several petticoats. Her husband was one of the artillery men and he was out in the field. We asked the usual questions, what’s your sign, which sorority do you belong to? Whoa, not those. Where are you from? Pittsburgh area. Where is your husband from? A little town you never heard of. Pretend I know a lot about Pennsylvania and say the name of the town. Kersey. Another small world example. Strictly speaking, his mother was from Kersey, a Gradizzi. The woman was surprised that anyone had ever heard of Kersey. I was surprised to meet someone who had heard of Kersey. She was articulate and informed and was very happy to answer questions from the various visitors who stopped by.

This being the Confederate side, it was inevitable that this kind of scene would happen. This scene was photographed by dozens, including me.

The Confederates had only three cannon for their demonstration, one each of the most common types, 12 pounder Napoleon, 3 inch Ordnance rifle, and 10 pounder Parrott rifle. Parrotts are named after their inventor, Robert Parrott. Napoleon’s are named after Emperor Napoleon III and not Napoleon Bonaparte. And the 3 inch Ordnance rifles were all made in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. There was a little bit of extra drama when the Napoleon had a hang fire. The friction primer fired but the gunpowder didn’t go off. But the crew was well trained and carefully reprimed and it fired the second time. This gave me an opportunity to tell how the Marines deal with a hang fire or misfire in an 81mm mortar. The tube is picked up and tilted downward and the errant projectile is caught in a blanket. This I learned from my old college roommate Frank who once commanded a mortar unit. I am blessed with interesting friends who have good stories.

After the firing, the visitors were welcome to go out to the guns and look around and ask questions. I found out that these modern replicas are not rifled since they never fire a live round. The gunpowder charge is not in a cloth bag anymore but rather wrapped in aluminum foil. Safety is paramount and yet the experience is authentic as these reenactor gunners know the drill. And like all we met, they were very happy to talk about their guns and demonstrate their tools.

The encampment was on the other side of the road, near the Longstreet statue. This southern lady found Chris to be engaging but retreated once I came up and started talking. I think my unregenerate Yankee-ness came through. Most of the time Chris and I were apart, talking to different folks. But he was always easy to spot in a crowd, given what he was wearing.

At one end of the encampment there was a display of the kinds of foods soldiers were issued during the Civil War. We would call it punk grub today but then the Union soldiers belonged to the best fed army in the world to that time. The Union supply chain was usually up to the task of keeping the Army supplied. One of the exceptions was the Gettysburg campaign where the wagon trains were pulled off the roads to let the infantry pass and did not catch up until after the fighting. And of course, the average Confederate soldier was near malnourishment much of the time except when they invaded Pennsylvania. Many of them spoke of the incredible richness of the farms and towns they passed through…and looted. Well, they didn’t really loot. They paid for what they took oftentimes, but in Confederate money. The difference between that and outright looting was lost on the farmers and merchants of south central Pennsylvania.

The man who has this display was also very knowledgeable and interesting to talk to. We tag teamed the guy, Chris arriving first, and after the tag, I came in with more questions. Chris had wandered over to the main part of the encampment. I noticed a curious thing about my friend Chris. On the Union side he says he lives in Pennsylvania. On the Confederate side he mentions that he was born in Virginia. The guys from the infantry demonstration returned at this time and we spent better than an hour talking to them.

One of the first guys we talked to was from Canada, Ottawa to be exact. Chris has an uncanny way of finding Canadians in a crowd. For some reason he handed this guy off to me very quickly. I soon found out why. The guy proudly announced he was a Canadian conservative and as he talked more, he came dangerously close to condoning slavery. I guided him away from that apostasy and got him going on Milton Friedman vice John Kenneth Galbraith. Thus an international incident was avoided. When I caught up with Chris again he was talking to a Welsh history teacher who was in hog heaven talking about all kinds of history stuff with some guys who knew some history. While he talked to Chris and I, his family was getting briefed by Captain Smith of the 14th Tennessee, a guy from Hagerstown who worked in the metal fabrication business. He explained things to the Welshman’s family with patience and enthusiasm that made him stand out as one of the best reenactors we encountered.

After the Welsh groups moved on, Chris and I spent the greater part of an hour talking to this guy. He regaled us with tales of reenactments, told us how they were asked by the NPS to take part, what it was like to be an extra on the movie Gods and Generals, and more. And we also discussed a lot of minutia about everyday life as a Confederate soldier. A much younger Latino reenactor from California joined in, showed us his cartridge box with the live rounds. He shared his pipe tobacco with Chris. Of course, when I tell the story, it goes like this. Chris’ main reason for visiting the camps was that he knew many of them would smoke pipes and he went around bumming free tobacco. This is, of course, not true. The camp was quite authentic with a display of what a soldier actually carried.

And they went about authentic camp chores. Some cooked over an open fire. Others heated water to clean the powder fouling out of their muskets. And others revealed the secret to staying hydrated on a hot day.

While the conversation continued, a lone member of Colonel Hiram Berdan’s United States Sharpshooters in the distinctive green uniform walked by. He was quiet and drew no attention to himself as he was in the camp of the enemy. I should mention that a sharpshooter is not one who shoots sharply (although that is the meaning now). Rather it refers to a man who shoots the Sharp rifle, a single shot breechloader carried by the Sharpshooters and by the original Bucktails, 1st Pennsylvania Rifles, 42nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, 13th Pennsylvania Reserves, they had many names.

After several hours at the Confederate camp, we got on the bikes again. Because so many of the roads in the park are one way, we had to take the long way around to get back to the car. Our path led us up Hancock Avenue past the Highwater Mark. We stopped there briefly and I looked back toward the Pennsylvania Monument and saw this crowded scene,

Being on bicycles we could move very much faster than cars. The only problem was with cars abruptly turning without use of signals. This happened a couple of times and each time it was a Honda Civic. We also saw the latest gimmick for getting around the battlefield, the Segway tour. As a cyclist I admit I am prejudiced. These things strike me as being the geekiest way to get around the battlefield. I suppose the Segway people have the same thought about cyclists.

Since we had to go through town anyway, I suggested a stop for ice cream at the Sunset Ice Cream parlor on Steinwehr Avenue, the heart of touristy Gettysburg. I bellied up to the bar and asked for two scoops of teaberry. Teaberry is not on the list of flavors and the girl asked how I knew they had some. I told her it’s in the far left corner of the back freezer. She said “I can tell you have been here before.” It was delicious as always. And after a delightful day of meeting folks and talking and sharing stories, we rode back to the car parked at the Seminary. After spending nearly the whole day on the battlefield, we were only on the bikes for 49 minutes. All the rest of the time was spent standing and talking. We only sat down when on the bikes and while eating the ice cream. It was a fine day. Tuesday night would be our last night sleeping at the campground. Chris cooked up something tasty but I can’t recall what it was. We played one Scrabble game and turned in.

 There will be two more installments in this series.

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