Hardship, honor play out with pride

Re-enactment: 15,000 soldiers travel back in time to stage a living history lesson on the Gettysburg Battlefield.


135th Anniversary Re-Enactment


Re-enacting the opening of the Battle of Gettysburg, 135 years after the fact, stirred emotions as deep and varied as the colors of an American patchwork quilt: pride, cheers and a few tears.

For the 15,000 men playing generals on horseback and privates on foot, it was a chance to experience the hardships and the honor that went with fighting the Civil War. For the 35,000 spectators watching under the July sun, it was a living history lesson. And for the civilian re-enactors in period dress in nearby tents, it was a chance to travel in time.

Take the Widow Barfleld for example, barefoot as she cooked hardtack for Confederate troops. "This many grown-up boys playing under the sun, someone has to take care of "em," said Betty Barfleld of Rockville.

Shoes were scarce in 1863; in fact, the whole battle began when Henry Heth, a Confederate general, went on a foray for shoes and bumped into two Union brigades commanded by Brig. Gen. John Buford.

Butler, 42, the bearded Pennsylvanian who portrayed Heth yesterday, uttered the very words that Heth spoke to General A.P. Hill: "I turned and said, 'With your permission, sir, I'll take my boys in and get those shoes.'"

The first engagement at Gettysburg was between two commanders, Heth and Buford, who had served together fighting the Sioux. That 1855 battle taught Buford a tactic he later used against Heth: dismounting cavalrymen in fighting against infantry.

Although the rebels outnumbered Buford's brigade 4 to 1, "Buford held me long enough for [Maj. Gen. John F.] Reynolds to come to the rescue," said Butler.

Still, the Southerners won the day, if not the decisive battle of the war. The battle that began as a skirmish between Union and Confederate scouts turned into a fierce, full-fledged engagement that eventually ended in a Union retreat.

To this day, some Southerners regret that their leaders didn't press their first-day advantage harder.

"You don't sit around and wait with open high ground in front," said Keith Bauer of New Orleans. Then he muttered a private's lamerit: "We do the work; they get the glory. They make mistakes; we pay the price."

One comrade said many had come up north to show their Southern pride, a point under-scored by women in corsets and handmade dresses who identified themselves as United Daughters of the Confederacy.

"When your relatives shed blood, it becomes personal for you," said Al Freyder of the 7th Louisiana.

Yet one man in Confederate garb, Rod Herring of Virginia, said he did not regret the outcome. "It was the best thing for this country that the Union won," said Herring, 41. Like many fathers, he brought his son along to witness the guns of Gettysburg - which, without real cannonballs, were not nearly as loud as the real thing.

As thousands of troops, including the famous Union "Iron Brigade," marched in tight four-man formation with strains of "Dixie" and "Yankee Doodle" in the air, a Michigan artillery unit got cannons ready and looked cool.

"When the Confederates break that tree line," said David Wardell, 47, of Muskegon, Michigan, "then we go into action." Upon hearing the rebel yell in the distance, he shrugged. "Their pep rally - they always do that."

To enhance the spirit of authenticity, soldiers on both sides carried items in their pockets similar to those owned by Civil War soldiers: the last letter from home, a Bible, food rations, pocket watches.

One thing that some missed from modern life was the telephone. "Without cell phones, it's amazing they coordinated anything," said Patrick Gorman, portraying Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood on horseback, as he did in the movie "Gettysburg."

When a courier galloped past in a rush, he said, "There's your cell phone."

Everyone there seemed to have a clear idea exactly what his or her role was, whether it was Stonewall Jackson's mapmaker, "shirkers" sitting in the shade as the battle raged or one who called himself a "simple farmer from Connecticut."

"I'm here to preserve the Union," said Ron Irvine, 51.

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