Gettysburg's anniversary to be marked by events, re-enactors

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What do you wear to Pickett's Charge?

If you're a spectator, lots of sunscreen. But if you're a Civil War re-enactor, try 20 pounds of wool and at least as many pounds of authentic gear, including a full canteen to battle the heat of July in Gettysburg.

For the next eight days, spectators and re-enactors from around the country and even the world will descend on central Pennsylvania to mark the 150th anniversary of this pivotal battle. They'll have three chances to relive not only Confederate Maj. Gen. George Pickett's failed attack but also fighting at the Wheat Field and Cemetery Ridge. And Abraham Lincoln will present his Gettysburg Address at 11 a.m. for four straight days, even though that didn't actually take place until November.

Gettysburg's 150th is such a milestone that it entails two weekends of re-enactments, three days of National Park Service-sanctioned military "demonstrations" and dozens of lectures, workshops and living history programs in and around the city. If it all seems a little too much, well, you're not as much of a history buff as Michael Kraus. The McCandless man has been taking part in re-enactments since he was a teenager and was a Union commander at the 125th Gettysburg anniversary, when 13,000 re-enactors outnumbered the spectators.

"I love to be in Gettysburg. It's impossible to have a bad time," he said earlier this week. "It will have its moments -- they all have great moments. I just hope it's not oppressively hot or too much rain."

Mr. Kraus, who is a curator at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland, says there will probably be more than 13,000 re-enactors in Gettysburg this week, but they'll be divided among the three events. He's taking part in two, the demonstrations on the actual Gettysburg battlefield July 1-3 (www.nps.gov/gett) and the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee's 150th battle re-enactment July 4-7.

The GAC (www.gettysburgreenactment.com) stages its event every five years. This time, it will be held on Table Rock Road, north of downtown. Well-organized and packed with activities, it aims to create an authentic experience for re-enactors and an entertaining show for visitors, who pay up to $40 a day and for an additional fee can sit in grandstands for a better view of the action. Its website warns:

"Bring the bottle of sunscreen with you; it wears off after two hours. July is typically hot and sunny in Gettysburg. Sun umbrellas may be used right up until the guns can be heard, marking the start of the re-enactment. They must be lowered at that time."

Sun umbrellas, sunscreen and grandstands are not key issues at the other event, the Blue Gray Alliance's 150th Commemoration and Re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg (www.bluegraygettysburg.com), which began Friday and continues through Sunday on the Bushey Farm northwest of Downtown. Terry Shelton of Clayton, N.C., and other members of Longstreet's Corps began organizing the event more than a year ago. In addition to battles involving thousands of combatants, it will include a small town populated by civilian re-enactors.

"Our goal is to provide a good quality re-enactment and to take care of the re-enactors and their families," he said. "We aim for total immersion for re-enactors."

The Blue Gray event welcomes spectators but doesn't tailor events toward entertaining them. Adult tickets cost $10 for one-day admission, $20 for two days. Children ages 12 and under get in free.

Robin Shields of Slickville, Westmoreland County, and other members of the 6th Ohio cavalry are taking part in both re-enactments. A hospice nurse who also writes Civil War poetry, she averages at least one re-enactment a month. Hauling all her gear and her 12-year-old quarter-horse Gunner makes cavalry re-enactment "a horribly expensive hobby," she says. But when she's in the moment, becoming the "blond demon" that Confederate cavalry men call her, there's nothing like it. In those moments, she feels a little bit of what her great-great-great grandfather, John Hissong of Boliver, experienced as a member of the 54th Pennsylvania from Johnstown.

"He became a miner after the war, lost all of his belongings in the Johnstown Flood. I just wish I had been able to learn more about him," she said.

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Kevin Kirkland: kkirkland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1978.


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