Gettysburg stands ready for re-enactment

June 14, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE

by RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer


Gettysburg monuments

Local Civil War buffs are gearing up for their second mammoth re-enactment in two years.

Last September, 12,500 re-enactors and an estimated 100,000 spectators converged on a farm south of Hagerstown for the 135th Anniversary Re-enactment of the Battle of Antietam.

That record-setting crowd may soon be topped on the July 4 weekend, when a re-enactment of similar size will commemorate the 135th anniversary of the three-day Battle of Gettysburg.


"It could easily turn out to be Civil War Woodstock," said re-enactor Tom Clemens, a history professor at Hagerstown Junior College.

More than 100 artillery pieces and 1,000 cavalry will help recreate famous battles such as Little Round Top and Pickett's Charge.

"This may be the largest gathering of the Blue and Gray since the war," said Don Warlick, re-enactor coordinator for both the Antietam and Gettysburg 135th anniversaries.

Garry McKinney of Martinsburg, W.Va., is helping to organize 500 Confederate calvary for the largest-ever horse-mounted re-enactment. "I think everybody's excited about it," McKinney said.

Local hobbyists said they feel lucky to live so close to Antietam and Gettysburg, Pa., which is about an hour's drive from Hagerstown, when other re-enactors are traveling from far away as Australia.

Nearness to Civil War sites was the main reason Stan Daywalt, 50, moved to Winchester, Va., after he got out of the U.S. Navy.

As a teenager growing up near Ringgold, Daywalt used to hitchhike to area battlefields. He attended his first re-enactment in Waynesboro, Pa., in 1963 and has been hooked on the hobby ever since.

Clemens said he plans to sleep under the stars at Gettysburg. If it rains, he'll use his rifle to prop up a tarp and crawl under the makeshift tent.

Russell Richards of Hagerstown, who organizes an annual re-enactment in Boonsboro, said he often prefers smaller events.

Despite the hassles that inevitably come with such a large event, he and other local re-enactors wouldn't miss the 135th anniversary of Gettysburg.

"It's just something to be a part of. Something special," said Richards, whose ancestors fought and died at Gettysburg.

The sheer size of the re-enactment threatened to kill plans to hold it on a 1,000-acre site southwest of Gettysburg at the intersection of Bullfrog and Pumping Station roads.

It wasn't until June 1 that the Freedom Township (Pa.) Zoning Board finally agreed to give organizers the permission they needed.

As a last resort, organizers considered moving the event across the Mason-Dixon line.

"One of the options was to bring it back to Hagerstown," Warlick said.

Washington County Planning Director Robert Arch played a crucial role in getting the approval, Warlick said.

Arch, who helped plan the logistics for Antietam, helped reassure the township that organizers could deal with the congestion and were prepared for emergencies.

The delays put organizers behind schedule, but Warlick is confident everything will be ready when the first re-enactors arrive June 30.

Much planning has gone into the re-enactment, but the original battle occurred by chance when Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia met with Army of the Potomac led by Gen. George G. Meade, said Mike Wicklein, who is making a video documentary of the event.

Recreating the showdown will be the largest theatrical event in the world, he said.

The battles are scripted, but there's always an element of danger.

At Antietam, a man died of a heart attack and a woman was seriously burned by an explosion of chemicals used in period photography.

Common re-enactment maladies include dehydration, blisters and having a foot trampled by a horse.

Preparations for Gettysburg began a year ago, when two groups that traditionally held separate re-enactments joined to form the Gettysburg 135th Anniversary Committee Inc., Warlick said.

Unlike the Antietam re-enactment, which was conceived and run by volunteers, the Gettysburg re-enactment is a for-profit venture.

A staff of 400 will work the week of the event, Warlick said.

It's easier to manage paid employees than volunteers, but Gettysburg won't have the same community spirit as Antietam, he said.

Arch said the Gettysburg re-enactment's traffic plans should funnel spectators in and out of the site more efficiently than Antietam, when traffic got so backed up that some spectators missed the battle re-enactments.

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