Pickett's Charge Commemorative March gives visitors opportunity to make connection with battlefield

July 03, 2013|By JENNIFER FITCH |
  • Union Major General George G. Meade, enacted by Steve Weatherbee, left, extends his hand to Confederate General Robert E. Lee, portayed by George Wells, Wednesday during Picketts Charge Commemorative March at Gettysburg National Military Park.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

GETTYSBURG, Pa. — For 10 years, Ray Lizarraga displayed in his home a Confederate-style kepi that he obtained when he first started participating in Civil War re-enactments.

He placed it on the head of an 11-year-old stranger Wednesday during a commemorative march on the 150th anniversary of Pickett’s Charge.

“I just wanted to have it here as a peace offering,” Lizarraga said of the hat.

Eric Jackson of North Carolina grinned as he donned the kepi. He and his 13-year-old brother, Drew Jackson, walked a mile with thousands of other people on the same ground crossed by Confederate soldiers on the Battle of Gettysburg’s last day.

The crowd made its way up Cemetery Ridge to the so-called “high-water mark” reached by the Confederacy. There, Union re-enactors ceremonially offered assistance over a stone wall moments before the echoes of taps could be heard.

“The Pickett’s Charge Commemorative March gives our visitors an opportunity to make that connection with the battlefield they can’t by reading a book or watching a movie,” said Mike Litterst, spokesman for the National Park Service.

William Marris has a master’s degree in history and has studied the Civil War for 40 years. He chose to walk the fields with his son, even though their travel companions from Wisconsin wanted to remain on the Union side due to their state of residence.

“It was amazing,” Marris said. “We’ve been here five times, and I’ve never walked it.”

The Marrises commented on the sense of coming together.

“We were on the wrong side technically, but we had to walk it,” Andrew Marris said.

Litterst said the National Park Service does not have a good way to estimate how many people are attending events such as the commemorative march. He shared figures that 7,862 people entered the visitors center on July 1, which represents a twofold increase compared to July 1, 2012.

Dianne DeMine of Latrobe, Pa., expressed concerns about how the crowds would affect the traditional ceremony held July 3 by the Civil War Heritage Foundation. She and her husband, Don, mark their wedding anniversary every year by participating in the ceremony.

“What we usually do is our Union guys stand behind the wall,” DeMine said, saying the crowds of visitors were blocking that.

Typically, re-enactors for both sides salute each other and introduce themselves, DeMine said.

“They’d give us their hand, and we’d bring them over the wall,” she said.

The march ended in some confusion this year as visitors spilled outside their designated areas, and Confederate units questioned how to cross the wall. Still, the two sides intermingled in camaraderie.

Lizarraga, who portrays Union Lt. Col. Henry Pleasants, said on the 50th anniversary of the infantry assault, Union supporters offered a hand to bring their Confederate counterparts over the ridge. He said emotions and tensions were running higher then.

Joyce Chang of Maple Glen, Pa., brought her children and her niece and nephew to Gettysburg for a few days. The children enjoyed climbing Little Round Top and Devil’s Den.

“We saw a re-enactment before, and it was really cool,” said Allison Chang, 12.

Joyce Chang said she hoped the experiences would help the children remember history’s important events.

Litterst said he wanted children to also realize the benefits of having a strong national park system.

“An event like this gives us a good opportunity to get them engaged,” he said.

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