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Home to Gettysburg, home to family for re-enactors

June 29, 2008|By AUTUMN PAPAJOHN

For some, the annual re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg - the furthest incursion of the Confederate Army into Union territory during the Civil War - is symbolic of America's historic heart.

But for others, the re-enactment means more than that. It is part of their family history, even a way of life.

Re-enactors George King, 59, and his son Trevor, 20, both of Waynesboro, Pa., have participated in every Gettysburg re-enactment for the last 14 years.

"Gettysburg is the event of the year. I've been participating in any way I could since I was 6. My whole life has been about re-enacting and it's who I am now," Trevor said.

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For the past 15 years, the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee has organized the Gettysburg National Civil War Re-enactment. This year's event will take place from July 4 to 6. The re-enactment portrays the historic and horrific 1893 Civil War battle which resulted in more than 48,000 dead, injured and missing.

Living History Director Kirk Davis said planning for this year's commemoration, the 145th anniversary of the battle, started 18 months ago. He said he's expecting more than 12,000 re-enactors, 500 horses and 100 cannons.

This year, cannon will fire and soldiers will fight in two battles per day. Living history tents will house re-enactors demonstrating period activities of daily life. Speakers will provide an assortment of talks on Civil War topics from officers to strategy to weapons.

Family affair

Thousands of spectators come to observe the battle between Union re-enactors and Confederate re-enactors at Gettysburg. Thousands more come to relive it. For many re-enactors, this battle is the highlight of their year.

George King became familiar with the re-enactment life through a friend. He started out portraying a Union soldier, but later joined a Confederate unit and worked as a field medic with an Army hospital.

"When I finally put on that gray uniform, I never went back to wearing blue," he said.

Now King acts as an emcee, dispensing his medical knowledge to spectators curious about topics such as injuries inflicted by Civil War weaponry.

As a child, Trevor King was too small to play a large part in the re-enactment and remembers toting his little toy gun across the field. Now he portrays a Confederate captain and sometimes a buck private, and, like his father, educates spectators about field and battle procedures.

"I like being a buck private, because I went from being a little kid with a toy gun to a big kid with a real gun," he laughed.

To field participants like Trevor, re-enacting on the battlefield provides survival training in a world without Internet and video games.

"Re-enacting teaches children respect for their elders and their family, because they are required, by historical standards, to call everyone by their given titles," George said. "It brings family and friends together to talk and share, without technology."

He added that re-enacting with the Gettysburg community is like being part of a band of brothers, a family of common values.

A surprise ending?

Although re-enactors commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg every year, the five-year anniversaries are the most popular. Re-enactors come from all over the world to participate, Davis said, and this year's event is expected to draw one of the biggest crowds ever.

"It is an honor to know that re-enactors are coming from overseas, all over the world, representing us and our history in this event," Trevor said.

He said his favorite battle of the commemoration is Pickett's Charge; this year, the re-enactment falls on his birthday, July 6. Davis confirmed that Pickett's Charge is the most popular battle of the three-day re-enactment, when 7,000 or 8,000 Confederates cross a field against a Union position.

"Pickett's Charge was a suicide march. Those soldiers were walking into the face of death. They were some of the bravest men of their time and probably of today's time as well," Trevor said.

His father smiled and joked, "One of these years, the Confederates are gonna win Pickett's Charge."




If you go ...



WHAT: 145th annual Gettysburg Civil War Battle Re-enactment

WHERE: 1085 Table Rock Road, Gettysburg, Pa., about four miles north of Gettysburg

WHEN: Friday, July 4, through Sunday, July 6

COST: One-day admission costs $24; $12 for ages 6 to 12. Grandstand seating costs an additional $13.

CONTACT: Call 717-338-1525. For complete schedule information or to buy tickets, go to www.gettysburgreenactment.com

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