In the summer of 1992 my business was going well and I was able to save some money for a family vacation to Gettysburg. My two young sons and I would camp along the way from our home in Wisconsin to the famous battlefield in Pennsylvania.
When we arrived at Gettysburg, the city was crawling with Civil War reenactors. We learned that a large Hollywood production of “Killer Angels” (later the production was renamed “Gettysburg”) was being shot in the area with some scenes being filmed on the actual locations.
The reenactors were fascinating. They came from diverse backgrounds and vocations and did historical reenacting as a hobby. The movie production company recruited period-authentic extras, so they had traveled to Gettysburg from all over the country. Their clothing, weapons and equipment, while not original for obvious reasons, appeared very authentic. I had never considered a pastime such as this, but I knew it was for me. When our trip was over I began looking for a Civil War group to join.
I wanted to portray a cavalryman, but I did not have a horse so I would have to find a group that was dismounted but still maintained an accurate depiction. After finding such a group and seeing them in action at some reenactments, I became a member of Company H, 1st U.S. Cavalry Regiment.
The next year found me back at Gettysburg, this time as a reenactor. Reenactments are not allowed to be held on National Park property. However, the Gettysburg event was held just a few miles from the actual field and on the same spot where much of the “Gettysburg” movie had been shot.
Most events I attended were within a few hours’ drive of my home. However, several weekends every summer you would find me near battlefields such as Antietam, Vicksburg or the Shenandoah Valley.
In early July of 1998, I was back at Gettysburg for the 135th anniversary of the battle.
The event was enormous. We were allowed to drive to the campsites to drop our gear but then had to park several miles away. It wasn’t just the size of the venue that was different. Pre-registration promised 20,000 reenactors but many more showed up. They came from all over, some even from Europe and Australia.
The climax of the event (like the real battle) was Pickett’s Charge. The charge would boast numbers of soldiers near the amount of the actual attack. My group, being cavalrymen, did not participate because there were no cavalry soldiers involved in defending against Pickett’s famous assault. This actually was a blessing. We were able to stake out a nice viewing spot under some shade trees.
The depiction of the charge was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. There were thousands and thousands of Confederate soldiers charging the smoking muskets of the Union infantry. In terms of numbers of reenactors, the 135th anniversary event is considered the largest historical reenactment ever.
One final note. Five years after the event a group of my friends went to the Gettysburg 140th commemoration. They reported they had seen a billboard advertising an attraction there. The billboard had a picture of three Union cavalrymen reenactors on it. One of those reenactors was me.