Originally published on forbes.com on July 2, 2013.
We did not feel compelled to rise early on July 2. Although there were National Park Service events going all day, it was the events of the afternoon and evening 150 years ago that would make some small patches of ground forever iconic. Well perhaps not forever, but certainly as long as there is a United States of America. There is the Peach Orchard, the Wheatfield, Devil's Den and, of course, Little Round Top.
The Park was starting to be seriously strained on July 2. Still we were able to get parking in one of the cemetery lots. My covivant was driving. CV spotted a couple from Maine approaching their parked car and hung onto the approach with the tenacity of Joshua Chamberlain. As inevitably happens in such situations, the Maine couple had many mysterious preparations to make before launching. Their pull-out did not take as long as Longstreet's attack preparations. It just seemed that way.
CV and I have different parking philosophies. CV, like many people, searches out the spot closest to the ultimate destination and has an instinct for whether people walking to their cars are going to leave. I am generally indifferent to how close-in the spot is. I want a spot that involves not backing up to either enter or leave with no one next to me on either side. I also am weak when it comes to parallel parking. CV was definitely the one to do the in-town driving on this trip.
At the information tents, I began my intelligence campaign to learn what the line Park Service people thought about Doris Kearns Goodwin's speech. My slowly developing case of "media envy" heightened. I deeply envied those large "MEDIA" tags that I spotted from time to time. The Park Service people, of course, have been way too busy to pay much attention to the controversy. I've made it a point to tell them what a great job I think they have doing. Not just this event, but the entire sesquicentennial and actually just about anytime I have ever been in a National Park at any time in my life. Many people, particularly those that I run into in my business life as a CPA, have a default assumption that private business always does things better than government. When it comes to vacation experiences, I think our National Parks stack up very well against Disneyworld and Universal. And it is not just because I am a cheapskate. I'd hate to think what the last few days would have been like if all the arrangements had been subcontracted to the airlines.
As we headed roughly South towards the days action, we ran into some people with 20th Maine t-shirts. They were re-enactors, currently in mufti, who would be participating in the weekend's events. They were with the American Civil War Association, which is based in Northern California. They and the next group we ran into illustrate many of the odd divisions among Civil War enthusiasts (or buffs, if you must use that term). The 20th Maine is, as you may know,through a combination of a spectacular incident and excellent post-war public relations work by their commander, Joshua Chamberlain, among the most famous in American military history. Joshua Chamberlain was a college professor in civilian life and he wrote quite a bit, but when he is quoted, it is usually "Fix bayonets" that you will hear
The highlight of our day was going to be Little Round Top at the approximate time of the famous charge. I was hoping to confirm the time as well as I could. Who better to ask than a 20th Maine re-enactor ? He didn't know. One of his companions thought it had been in the morning. The real life participants 150 years ago mostly did not have watches, did not spend much time looking at them if they had them and the watches were not well synchronized nor that accurate. So precise times are always a matter of conjecture. Nonetheless, the events on Little Round Top are well known to be late afternoon/evening.
How do 20th Maine re-enactors not know that ? I'm sure most do and I caught a bad sample, but it is odd that there are any at all. Re-enactors, though, to do what they do well, need to be focused on artifact authenticity and the details of drill. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to master the technology of an Enfield or Springfield rifled musket, but firing it in coordination with a few hundred other people is not something you learn in half an hour. When you combine that with knowing whether a particular type of cartridge box or corps badge went into service before or after the date of the particular event you are portraying, there is a vast amount of material that you could study without getting into areas that those with a more general knowledge would take for granted.
CV started quizzing the fellow about the details of his group. As with many such groups, it is a spin-off of another group. The original core group was into hyper-authenticity including camp life. This meant that if women and children were accompanying, they needed to be confined to a separate camp. I guess it is like being the male child of lesbian moms attending the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. As fellows got older, this became less and less acceptable, but the hardcore leadership was unmoved. ACWA allows families, appropriately attired in period costumes, to camp with their men. Re-enacting is a family activity for many. One of the T-Shirts, you will see is "I am a Civil War nut's wife". My friend from Central Florida told CV that if we were ever to get married, he was going to get that for us as a wedding present. As the days go by, my protestations to CV that my Civil War obsession is moderate and my knowledge superficial, both true, become less and less credible.
I did get a more precise answer about Little Round Top timing from another group, that we encountered as the Park Service people were organizing us for the Valley of Death. They call themselves the Gettysburg Geek Group and are a very informal group that formed two years ago to plan a trip to the sesquicentennial. There are about seventeen of them, friends and friends of friends of Reverend Keith Hunsinger, a Lutheran pastor. Five of the group are Lutheran pastors. Reverend Hunsinger is an intentional interim pastor. He and his fellow clergy leveraged their ministerial status to score enviable accommodations for the week - the guest house at the Lutheran Seminary.
They also included quite a few board gamers in their group - another entry point into Civil War enthusiasm. Really serious military board gaming can, in fact, require rocket scientist intelligence. Some of them are scary smart. The board game Gettysburg by Avalon Hill was published in 1958 and is ground zero of the historical simulation board game hobby. I could not help but brag about the vintage copy that accompanied me on the trip and one of the GGG told me that they had laid a copy on the table the previous night to plan their day. They confirmed for me that the ideal time to be on Little Round Top would be for the ranger program at 5:00 PM. Then it was time to head into Devil's Den, which will be the subject of my next post.
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