The 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg was held during the period June 27 – July 7, 2013. Events began with a reenactment by the Blue Gray Alliance June 27-30 and ended with a reenactment sponsored by the GAC, or Gettysburg Anniversary Committee. Both events were held on private property outside of Gettysburg. The National Park Service held real time commemorations, walks, tours, talks, and other special events while the GAC set up events in the town of Gettysburg outside the National Park.
On Sunday, June 30, a special commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg was held at the National Park with a firing of cannon symbolizing the first shot. The presentation of colors was by the 3rd US Infantry Regiment, National Anthem performed by Trace Adkins, and a live theatrical depiction of the battle told through the voices of soldiers, leaders, and civilians who experienced it. A candle lighting service was held followed by a twenty-one gun salute and a procession to the Soldier’s National Cemetery for a luminaria.
On July 1, the Lutheran Seminary on Seminary Ridge was opened as a museum. This museum was made possible by many benefactors and was the site of the beginning battle of July 1, 1863. The Confederates under the leadership of Robert E. Lee were taking the battle north after the Southern victory at Chancellorsville in May. The Federals were retreating and thought Lee would attack DC. Actually, around 4000 Confederates entered Gettysburg looking for supplies and met the Army of the Potomac. At 7:30 AM that morning, the first shots tried to delay the Confederates until Reynolds could arrive on the field. The largest fight ever held in this half of the world had begun. Eventually, the Confederate Army took Seminary Ridge and occupied the ground of the seminary. Meade, the Federal commander, urged Reynolds to take the high ground and the Federals began to fall back as the Confederates entered town. On this one day, the Union was outnumbered by Confederates and there were 10,000 casualties to the Confederate 7,000.
Each day from July 1 -7 during the anniversary was packed with opportunities for visitors. It was interesting to this Southern writer that political correctness concerning the Confederate Battle Flag was not evident in the town, where money is made on tourism, and both flags representing the men of both sides, fly freely. But the flag obviously is not to be displayed in the National Cemetery where only Union are buried, nor on the National Battle Field, although Southerners died there. The only exception was the commemoration of Pickett’s Charge, July 3, in which the battle flag was carried by re-enactors, but alongside the present day US flag.
On July 3 at 9:30 AM, a reading of the Roll of the Dead began at the National Cemetery and for the first time in history, the name of both Union and Confederate were read. Prior to this, only Union names were read at such occasions. This writer was proud to read the names of some of our Southern soldiers who died there in 1863, although not buried in the National Cemetery. There were over 51,000 casualties in the three-day Battle of Gettysburg, including wounded and captured.
On Tuesday afternoon, July 3, one of the highlights of the week long events was sponsored by the National Park Service and held on the Field of Honor, the place of Pickett’s Charge. This was the field which turned the tide for the south and was a place of tremendous loss of life on both sides, but particularly the south. The real time event began at 3 PM with around 15,000 re-enactors and civilians starting the march across the Field of Honor, carrying Battle Flags, and the US Flag as previously mentioned, and letting out that rebel yell. News teams from across the world were on the ridge with around 25,000 union re-enactors and spectators to commemorate the event. As thousands swarmed the ridge, both sides shook hands and Taps were played to remember those who gave their lives at that very hour 150 years before.
This writer was honored to take part in this historical commemoration and to interview a few people taking part in the march. Their comments are noteworthy. Several re-enactors from Pridgen’s Shenandoah Legion of West Virginia said they do re-enacting not just for the love of history, but to catch a small moment of what it was really like back then. To them it’s about researching the battle and what the men went through. Many spectators when asked what they were most impressed with, said, “the re-enactors – they are so passionate about what they do and live each moment as if it were then.” One of the most interesting comments came from Steve Wold of Adelaide, South Australia. He and five others who are lovers of American history had traveled to Gettysburg for the events. He also felt that the re-enactors were literally re-living history and that no one does it like America – the preservation of battlefields and history.
On July 4, Independence Day, the GAC Battle of Gettysburg re-enactment began with tens of thousands of spectators and over 10,000 registered re-enactors. There were the usual sutlery tents and living history encampments, but the scope and magnitude of this event made it worthy of the 150th anniversary. Each day different battles of the Gettysburg campaign were portrayed on the field in what was the hottest part of the summer so far with temperatures soaring into the 90’s. In one of the activity tents, Mr. Al Stone of West Virginia portrayed General Lee himself and gave a talk on the constitutionality of secession and Lee’s dilemma. Around 400 people were in the tent and several hundred stood outside in the boiling sun to hear this gentleman’s talk. He was interrupted several times with ovations of applause. In round about terms, he was comparing the events of the 1850’s and 1860’s to the tyranny of the government today and people were most attentive and interested in his comments. The re-enactment event ended on July 7 with the portrayal of Pickett’s Charge and 180 cannon on the field, the most ever presented at a re-enactment.
The National Park Service, the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee, and the town of Gettysburg did an excellent job in hosting several hundred thousand spectators and re-enactors during this historical event. They are to be commended for their work. As one of the GAC Committee members put it, “You won’t see anything like this again till the 200th.” This Southern writer won’t be here for the 200th, but will be in eternal glory with those men who wore the gray. We remember them 150 years after they fought for Southern Independence. Their cause will not be forgotten as long as we study true history and preserve our Southern and American heritage.