GETTYSBURG, Pa. -- When he was a boy growing up in Ohio, Zel Canter thought he knew where he would be in July 1963.
"Here in Gettysburg for the 100th anniversary of the battle," he said.
Sometimes life gets in the way. When that centennial year came around, Mr. Canter was married and waiting to hear about admission to law school.
The retired judge made it to Adams County, however, for the 150th anniversary to watch his son, Paul, take part in the re-creation of Pickett's Charge on Sunday. That event was staged on a privately owned farm about 2 miles north of town.
"I'm getting a second chance to relive that dream through my son," he said. Dressed for the event, if not for the hot, humid weather, Mr. Canter wore a 19th-century white three-piece suit, black bowtie and straw hat. In a nod to the weekend's 90-degree temperatures, he left his frock coat in his car during his visit to the military park Saturday. Mr. Canter and his wife, Nancy, live in Solvang, Calif.
Paul Canter, a re-enactor with Hampton's Legion, a Confederate military unit, was one of thousands of "living history" presenters who participated in a closing weekend of commemorative events. He lives in Los Angeles.
The Gettysburg Anniversary Committee sponsored activities Sunday on the Redding Farm, while the National Park Service offered a program of ranger talks, author lectures by Civil War historians and battlefield walks at the military park.
The staging of Pickett's Charge was the climax of a full day of events at the farm that began with a Civil War-era worship service. Just as happened on July 3, 1863, Sunday's commemorative events included a North-South cavalry battle that preceded the unsuccessful Confederate attack on the center of the Union line.
Pickett's Charge, which took place on the third day of the bloodiest battle in American history, was followed by the Confederate retreat back south. Its re-creation on the Redding Farm was part of a nine-day commemorative program that ended Sunday. The dozens of daily events and activities drew tens of thousands of visitors to the military park, the historic town and surrounding communities.
"I don't believe there are ghosts, but there is something that calls you back here," Mike Day said. "History haunts that battlefield." He and his wife, Marj, operate the Keystone Inn, a bed-and-breakfast, in Gettysburg.
"This is sacred ground," Michael Short said. He is a former Philadelphian who now lives in Eatontown, N.J. He and his buddy, George Zilocchi, come regularly to Gettysburg. "We want to honor the men who sacrificed their lives here," he said. "You feel them here."
Other people were in Gettysburg this weekend in search of connections to family members. Christopher Beaton, a computer programmer from Boca Raton, Fla., was searching for the name of an ancestor, J.A, Boggs, on the bronze plaques that line the walls of the Pennsylvania Memorial. Boggs, who was born in Juniata County, served with one of the state's cavalry companies, according to Mr. Beaton.
The 12,000 Pickett's Charge re-enactors came to the farm in Cumberland Township on Sunday from all 50 states and 20 foreign countries.
The location for the mock battle -- an open field -- featured stone walls behind which Union defenders could crouch down.
The re-enactment began at 3:30 p.m. with a mass cannon barrage that had little children covering their ears.
Union troops marched into position to the sounds of drums and cheers from many of the 23,000 spectators lining the field.
While Confederate cannon crews were visible hundreds of yards away, many of the Southern re-enactors were hidden from sight.
They began their infantry assault at 4 p.m. to the sounds of Rebel yells as gray smoke from the cannon fire continued to drift across the field.
The Confederates fired multiple volleys en masse as they approached the Union lines. Like the soldiers under the command of Gen. George Pickett 150 years ago, some dozens made it to the stone wall where the Federal defenders were, but they could not hold it and had to fall back.
By 4:30, the Southerners were retreating, just as a heavy rainstorm hit the area.
"It's amazing how people show up for these events," Tom Magruther of Catonsville, Md., said. He has attended many re-enactments over the years.
He finds each one different and educational. "I learn something new every time I come here," he said.
Confederate re-enactor Tim McCown has been participating in "living history" and commemorative battle events for 30 years. A history teacher who lives in Mercersburg, Pa., he sees his participation as a way of honoring his ancestors who served in Virginia and South Carolina military units.
He also thinks that re-enacting helps to bring history alive.
Mr. McCown was clad in a heavy cotton-wool Richmond Type 2 shell jacket that he wore in the Hollywood films "Gettysburg" and "Gods and Generals."
His coat looked well worn.
"I want people to know what a Confederate infantryman looked like a -- and smelled like," he said.
Len Barcousky: firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-772-0184. First Published July 8, 2013 4:00 AM