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Civil War buffs gather in Pa. for seminars and tours

July 28, 2005|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA.

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

Civil War aficionados from across America gathered Wednesday night to hear Pulitzer Prize-winning author James McPherson speak on the opening night of the annual Chambersburg Civil War Seminars and Tours, but few whose interest in the subject is as evident as that of Giro Gaimaro.

"You want to see my tattoo?" Gaimaro said after getting McPherson to autograph a book. The West Brooklyn, N.Y., man took off his shirt to reveal a Civil War tableau that covers his entire back, from an American flag across his shoulders, descending to portraits of Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee flanking the Gettysburg Address to Gen. Lewis A. Armistead leading Pickett's Charge on the small of his back.

"This is about our fifth or sixth straight year here," said Gaimaro, who was with Michael Fitzpatrick of Massapequa Park, N.Y.

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"As many as our wives will let us," Fitzpatrick said when asked how many Civil War seminars they attend each year.

Fitzpatrick does not have any body art to match Gaimaro's, but said the War Between the States is "our one passion our families appreciate."

Seminar participants started the day with a bus tour led by historian Ed Bearss, a familiar face to those who watched Ken Burns' documentary "The Civil War" and a number of other programs, including "Civil War Journal." The tour took them along the route from Winchester, Va., to Chambersburg that the Army of Northern Virginia followed on its way to Gettysburg.

Wednesday night at the Four Points Sheraton, McPherson, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for "Battle Cry of Freedom," lectured the group and fielded questions on why Lee invaded Pennsylvania.

McPherson said Lee penned two reports in the weeks and months after the battle that outlined a number of objectives and what was achieved, not conceding that his army had been handed a strategic loss at Gettysburg. He contended that Lee, in fact, ventured into Pennsylvania "looking for a fight, if not a war-winning fight."

Lee read smuggled newspapers from the North throughout the war and believed the Union armies and public were demoralized in the summer of 1863, McPherson said. A decisive blow in southcentral Pennsylvania would, in Lee's mind, convince the United States to seek terms with the Confederacy, or influence upcoming elections and give antiwar "Copperheads" the political power to bring about the same result, he said.

Among those attending was David Gillingham of Evanston, Ill., part of a group intent on opening a Civil War museum in Kenosha, Wis.

"In this case it will be about the home front, because there was obviously no Battle of Kenosha, Wisconsin," Gillingham said of the museum's theme. While no battles were fought in the Upper Midwest, he said states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana provided "a whole lot of grain, lead and troops," along with leaders such as Lincoln, Grant and Custer.

Ted Alexander, staff historian at Antietam National Battlefield and coordinator of the seminar, said tours and lectures will continue through Sunday. Those interested may still get involved by calling the Greater Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce, he said.

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