Wednesday, July 03, 2013

150 Years Ago Today: Pickett's Charge; How Bro and I Refought the Battle of Gettysburg

Stogie at Gettysburg
Today marks the 150th anniversary of the "high water mark" of the Confederacy when 12,500 Confederate soldiers attacked Union defenses on Cemetery Ridge.  The Confederate troops were told to focus on the Copse of Trees on Cemetery Ridge, and began a fast walk forward towards the Union lines.  The Southern lines were showered with canister, shells and musket fire and few actually reached the stone wall (a barrier of loose boulders piled in such a way as to make a kind of fence).  The great Confederate General Lewis Armistead was shot down just before reaching the Angle, a bend in the stone wall.  A monument today marks the spot where he fell, and I have been there.  The Angle is still there as well, a quiet, pastoral scene with no hint of the desperate fighting that occurred there.

There is an excellent photo essay of reenactors at Gettysburg this week, and they have recreated the sights and scenes of that momentous battle with incredibly authentic detail.  See it here.

I was at Gettysburg in August of 1992, as a Confederate reenactor and extra ("background artist") in the Ron Maxwell movie "Gettysburg," based on the novel "The Killer Angels."  Bro and I had prepared for the filming for weeks in advance; I had grown a salt and pepper beard and we flew to Virginia where we rented a car and drove to Gettysburg.  We arrived and set up our tent in the Confederate camp, where we stayed for the week, constantly wearing our heavy woolen uniforms and marching at daybreak with other Confederate reenactors over grounds where the actual Confederates marched and died 129 years before.  With our uniforms, 1857 Enfield muskets (working replicas), canteens, haversacks, cartridge belts, rough brogan shoes, bayonets and other gear clinking and clanking to the tramp of marching feet, we took our places in the lines and prepared to once more assault the Union lines beyond the wooden fence bordering the Emmitsburg Pike.

                                                                                      Reenactors at Gettysburg, 2013


































It was a hot, uncomfortable, busy week, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.  It was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life, and not because we were in a movie, or rubbing elbows with famous actors like Martin Sheen (as Lee) or Stephen Lang (as Pickett), but because we were paying homage to our courageous forbears on the same sacred ground where they fought and died.  It was almost a religious experience.  As we the Confederates quietly passed the statue of General Lee on Seminary Ridge, where the real Confederates began the charge, we entered the actual Hallowed Ground to form our battle lines.  The Copse of Trees on the horizon is still there, and the grassy green expanse in front of us seemed silent and sacred.  How very different from that day in 1863, when the field between Seminary Ridge and Cemetery Ridge was filled with roaring cannon and the rattle of  musket fire, billowing gun smoke, whistling shells and the screams of dying men, a scene of  blood and carnage and death.  Though the field before us was now silent, we could see, hear and smell the battle in our imaginations.

Soon our long gray line was marching forth, our red battle flags unfurled to the Pennsylvania breeze.  Many Confederate descendants, overcome with emotion, wept.  Bro and I marched forth with fixed bayonets, shells exploding on either side, rockets streaming over our heads, around dead horses here and there, onward toward the wall!.  We were finally shot down at the Angle (filmed later at an alternate location), and it was an honor to "die" for the Southern Cause.  One of our members actually did die, of a heart attack, later that week.  Actor Sam Elliot later led a memorial service for him and one other reenactor who died as well.

Bro and I were members of the First Virginia Infantry.  After the filming, we drove to Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond and walked among the graves of the Confederate dead.  General Pickett is buried there, as well as many of his men.  We found one tombstone that identified the dead as a member of the First Virginia who fell at Pickett's Charge.  We also visited the graves of Jefferson Davis and Jeb Stuart, who are buried close to each other.

****

That's my Pickett's Charge tale, one that I and Bro actually experienced in the flesh.  Somewhere in the film "Gettysburg," there is a scene of grizzled, smoke stained Confederates marching toward the camera at the outset of Pickett's Charge, and for a few brief seconds, I am visible in the line, black slouch hat on my head, shouting at the other troops to "straighten that line."  Bro appears right behind me, for only a second before the scene ends.

17 comments:

Stogie said...

Stogie,
You, too, have been to a Gettysburg re-enactment? These Gettysburg re-enactments are something to behold!



Mr. AOW and I participated in the camp followers section at the 1988 re-enactment. My mother-in-law and her boyfriend were really into participating in re-enactments until Alzheimer's destroyed her ability to take part in such events. Although both my MIL and her boyfriend are Yankees, they belonged to a Confederate regiment (North Carolina, I think). My MIL's boyfriend was an undertaker and my MIL his wife. Mr. AOW and I also donned re-enactment costumes -- my MIL was a professional seamstress and gave us our costumes -- and tromped around in the miserable heat for the whole day. Worth the effort and the misery, however.

Stogie said...

AOW, I used to reenact as a Confederate soldier with the National Civil War Association in California. However, when my brother and I were at Gettsyburg, it was for making the Pickett's Charge scene of the movie "Gettysburg." We were only two of several thousand Union and Confederate reenactors who were there. The movie was released in 1993.

Stogie said...

Wait a minute -- you had a chance for a re-do, and STILL couldn't drive those Yankees from the field?



All kidding aside, I bet that was a very meaningful experience -- and a lot of fun.

Stogie said...

Stogie,
I wonder if you ever ran into my mother-in-law and her boyfriend.

Stogie said...

OR, yes, it was a very meaningful experience to a Confederate descendant. Glad I was there.

Stogie said...

Couldn't say!

Stogie said...

They didn't give up re-enacting until 2007 or so. They also did a lot of dancing -- dancing from that period, I think.


If found some information about them online and will email it to you.

Stogie said...

Off topic but possibly of interest to you, Stogie:

http://www.wtop.com/41/3380632/Court-sides-with-Va-city-on-Confederate-flag-ban

Stogie said...

Great read Pop! Even though it was a reenactment I bet you guys were very emotionally motivated. Wish I could of gone with you guys!

Stogie said...

Okay, I'd love to see it, and you and Mr. AOW in your period costumes!

Stogie said...

Me too son! We could have had a ball.

Stogie said...

AOW, the NAACP and other liberals are constantly tying to ban the Confederate flag, even from Confederate cemeteries. Their usual lie is that the flag "is a painful reminder of slavery in the Southern states." The idea is to fix for all time the big lie that the South fought to retain slavery and the North, full of goodness and righteousness, fought to end it, establish racial equality, harmony and rainbows and unicorns. They skip over the fact that it was the American flag that flew over the Northern owned and operated slave ships, that for every slave the Yankee traders sold the South, they sold 19 more to Cuba, Brazil and the West Indies. The Southern flag doesn't represent slavery any more than Mt. Vernon or the image of slaveowners like Thomas Jefferson. It represents the sovereignty of the individual states, the right to withdraw from a political union that has become destructive of their rights and interests, the right of the consent of the governed. Of course, the MSM simply parrots whatever the racial grievance industry says.

Stogie said...

Unfortunately, there are no photos of Mr. AOW and me in the period costumes. At least, no photos that I know of.


However, my MIL and her boyfriend had quite a wardrobe -- as you observed in the email I sent you.

Stogie said...

Agreed!

Not far from me, there is a high school with a sports team called "The Rebels." The libtards have been having a meltdown over the team's name for many years now. So far, the name holds.

Stogie said...

I saw the pics, and the costumes are very impressive indeed! I am fascinated with Victorian era clothing and before. It's obvious your mother-in-law went with a really authentic look, as that clothing isn't cheap.

Stogie said...

Stogie,


I suppose the film wasn't like the actual event because movies are shot in individual scenes with interruptions, sometimes long, to prepare for the next. And I would guess they couldn't match the exact locations because of the monuments in the way. Even so, when it came time for your part of the battle, I bet you had a rare insight into that day: not only the terrain, the disposition of the armies, and the tactics, but the emotions of the participants. I'm glad to hear that you participated in the film and re-creations.

Stogie said...

Rick, you are correct. They shot the Pickett's Charge scene in two locations: one was on the actual site of Pickett's Charge, actually the space between Seminary and Cemetery Ridges. The fighting at the Angle and the stone wall was filmed on a farm about three miles from the actual location, where the Angle and the wall were recreated, as well as the Emmitsburg Pike, which was only a dirt road in 1863. We had to scale a wooden fence there to get across the road to the stone wall, where the Yankees were. They had dead horses placed here and there, real horses, but dried out and stuffed with styrofoam pellets like giant bean bags. Yes, at the actual site, they did have to angle the filming to avoid any monuments, which are plentiful, especially at the stone wall. On the actual site, they filmed us marching in long lines, with some aerial overhead shots.