Confederates March Into Battle
GETTYSBURG, Pa. (AP) _ The largest contingent of men to don Confederate uniforms since the Civil War on Friday reenacted the opening skirmish of the Battle of Gettysburg, 125 years after the war’s bloodiest confrontation.
Nearly 5,000 Confederate infantry, artillery and cavalry engaged more than 3,000 Union troops in a 90-minute reenactment of the chance meeting at McPherson’s Ridge that started the Civil War’s most famous battle.
To the thunder of cannonfire and the reek of gunpowder, Confederate troops pushed back the Union’s black-hatted ″Iron Brigade,″ as scores of men on both sides feigned death in the tall grass and spectators watched from a hill overlooking the field.
Organizers said the 4,800 men to don Confederate uniforms was the most since the end of the Civil War in 1865.
″What you’re going to see will be tremendous amounts of noise, smoke and confusion. Those are three prerequisites of a Civil War battle,″ said Kim Bernard Holien, a historian for the U.S. Army Center of Military History.
Napoleonic Tactics Inc., which sold tickets to cover its $450,000 budget for staging three days of ersatz warfare, has billed the event as the largest Civil War reenactment ever. The consulting company was hired by the event’s sponor, the American Civil War Commemorative Committee Inc.
A total of 75,000 spectators are expected to attend over three days of reenactments on farmland five miles south of the actual Gettysburg battlefield.
The events are to climax Sunday with the restaging of Pickett’s Charge, the Confederates’ last push of the battle.
The Battle of Gettysburg took place from July 1-3, 1863, and resulted in nearly 50,000 dead and wounded. Confederate General Robert E. Lee invaded Pennsylvania for provisions and to beat the Union army on its own soil in hopes of winning diplomatic recognition for the Confederacy, Holien said.
Tactical commanders for both sides met Thursday night to map out the next day’s skirmish.
″Supposedly everything’s supposed to happen according to the script,″ said Paul Baebler, a spokesman for Napoleonic Tactics.
″The people who won the first time will win again.″ he said.
Organizers said the number of troops falling ″dead″ in Friday’s skirmish would be proportionate to actual losses.
But Michael Kraus, commander of the Union forces, said troops often improvise on the field.
″It’s an individual thing,″ said Kraus, a 34-year-old artist from Creston, Ohio.
″When the shooting gets in close and hot, everybody likes to die,″ said Kraus, who wore a general’s long blue coat with gold stars on his epaulets.
Somtimes during reenactments, soldiers get caught up in the action, said Ken Haack of Fredricksburg, Md.
Haack, an art gallery owner, said he was gouged in the finger by a bayonet at a reenactment this spring at Chancellorsville, Va. This time, no fixed bayonets were allowed.
Union and Confederate armies set up large camps on the 700-acre site, pitching rows of tents and cooking by campfires.
A camp of ″civilians″ in period garb pitched tents nearby.
Units tried to capture the lifestyle of Civil War soldiers, even eating ″hardtack,″ the rock-hard bread soldiers at Gettysburg endured.
Members of the 23rd New York regiment had to stand on a wood box as punishment for mentioning anything modern, said Ed Gouvier, an engineer from Phoenix.
Gouvier, a private with the outfit, said people were willing to spend $1,000 for authentic equipment needed to take part in the reenactment either because they liked history, for the camaraderie, or to take part in the battles.
Previously, the largest contingent of mock-Confederate combatants was at a July 1986 reenactment of the First Battle of Manassas in which 6,000 took part, according to Napoleonic Tactics Inc.