What a week! Let’s talk keywords:
- Yankees with caterers
- Out of control bicyclists
- Artillery barrage
- Near death from 110% humidity and tight corsets
- The incredible media Curleys!
I’m going to be honest right off the bat. I made it one night–one night–sleeping on the battlefield. We slept in the back of our SUV, which was fun for about fifteen minutes. And then it started to rain and we had to close the windows. Then the windows steamed up and it got really stinky and sweaty really fast. And then a whole convoy of park rangers and EMS trucks and cops rolled into camp, shining spotlights into cars and tents and blue/red lights blazing away.
My first thought, “I’m not wearing any pants! And the windows are fogged up!!!”
My second thought, “We’re allowed to be here! I have the badge to prove it!”
Apparently, they were responding to a call from elsewhere in the park and left just as fast as they arrived. However, that was just about enough smelliness and lack of sleep for me. Cue the iPhone. In five minutes, I snagged the last room in our favorite hotel and that was that. But I did regularly use the surprising clean port-a-johns. And I was a champ! No kitty litter required.
So, I nearly died on July 1st. After nine years of corset wearing goodness, the combination of heat and humidity almost took me down. Actually, I was one of three in our group who almost passed out from the heat. But, look how official I am with my official volunteer badge! Jealous, right? And yes, I look super ill and pasty. But kids, I felt it coming and hightailed it from the field to the woods, literally ripping my dress open and unlacing my corset as I walked. I decided I had no interest in becoming the latest casualty on the field and instead played tourist/journalist/media queen for the rest of the afternoon. And obviously one with no shame.
It was awesome!
Obviously my estimation of awesomeness differs from other people’s estimation, but let me tell you. Running around the field knowing that we were there 150 years to the day the battle happened was pretty amazing. I realize that’s an awkward sentence and poorly constructed. Heat stroke. Lets blame it on the heat stroke.
Prior to my heat exhaustion/stroke/whatever, The Hubs and I were interviewed by–surprise!–our local paper. They took pictures! They wrote down our names and ages! And I said to myself, “Self. Why did you give your real age? Why not firmly grasp this opportunity by the short hairs and shave off a few years?”
Hindsight is 20/20.
Tuesday was the most fun I’ve had at an event in years. We were out of control! Corset tied markedly looser, I made my triumphant return to the field and laughed, joked, chatted, and charmed my way through the crowd. I was video interviewed by a journalist! And look, when I find said interview, I’ll link up to it. It was pretty awesome. True to form, I rambled. And had a massive red mark on my forehead from my hat. And smelled. Hopefully there was nothing stuck in my teeth.
July 2nd was actually a sad-ish day for me, since it was the day Alonzo Hayden was killed during the charge of the 1st Minnesota. I wore a black ribbon in his honor and then walked up to the cemetery to visit his grave. It was a bummer.
Sadness aside, the day was phenomenal. I met tons of really cool people! I hobnobbed with artillery guys! I cast disapproving side-eyes at infantry guys! I acquired the most awkward sunburn on the back of my hands and the back of my wrists from my bodice!
I learned things about the Battle of Gettysburg that were just haunting. Example: Alonzo Cushing, a US Army Regular, literally fought to his death behind an artillery piece. The thumbstall–the leather sheath used to protect the cannoneers’ thumb when the vent hole is covered during loading–was lost, so he covered the hole with his bare thumb. He was wounded in the shoulder and then mortally wounded by shell in his abdomen. He managed to pull the lanyard and fire the piece a final time. When his body was found, practically disemboweled from his wound, they saw his thumb was seared down to the bone from his desperate attempts to fire the piece. That’s courage. That’s determination.
We found out The Gettysburg Foundation was providing dinner for us at the Trostle Farm Tuesday night. The Trostle Farm was the headquarters of scandalous General Dan Sickles and, if you’ve ever been to Gettysburg or looked at my twelve million pictures from Gettysburg, the Trostle barn is the barn with the big hole in it from shell fire.
So we were excited.
We then found out the Yankees weren’t going to be joining us, as the Yankee Army contracted their own personal caterer for the event. Not surprising.
What did this mean for us? More cupcakes!
It was delicious. We rubbed elbows with independent companies of Yankees who weren’t part of the “Catered Club” (“Whoever lost the war gets to eat first!”), we lamented the fact no beverages were provided (“This is the best meal I’ve ever complained about!”) and prayed for the arrival of a beer truck (“Then we can sell it. And people will buy it–at this rate, they’ll pay six bucks, even for bad beer”). I’ll tell you what, although there may have been some creepy park visitors who were irate all Confederate reenactors were not born in the south and were in fact, on occasion, actually Yankee born, there is no bad blood between Yankee and Rebel reenactors. We had a blast!
The best part of the evening? The Hubs and I went down to Ziegler Grove, near where the Cyclorama used to be. There was a program called “Voices of Gettysburg” where summer interns read from letters and diary entries about each day of the battle. It was pretty moving stuff. The rain held off all day, but towards the end of the program, the sky turned dark, dark gray and the clouds starting rolling in. Just as the reader announced, “This was Day Two of the Battle of Gettysburg” the sun broke through the clouds. The Hubs and I strolled down to take pictures of the Pennsylvania Monument, with the dark storm clouds overhead. At that moment, the most beautiful rainbow I’ve ever seen crossed the sky. Not only was it a double rainbow, but it was a complete rainbow. The entire field seemed to stop, visitors and park rangers just looked up at this bright rainbow across the battlefield. It was breathtaking. Stunning. It was a bizarre, emotional mix of happiness and sadness and just awe over how beautiful it was now, as opposed to how awful it was 150 years prior.
Two words: Pickett’s Charge. Infantry reenactors would be leading visitors across the field at the exact moment on the exact day the charge happened. The infantry lined up (“Don’t worry! We’ll be along to rescue you infantry boys right quick!”), flags unfurled and fife and drum echoing across the field. At 1:00pm, our guns fired the signal shots for the charge. I could still hear the drum beats fading in the distance as the first gun fired. It was bone chilling.
As far as we can tell from history, the second gun misfired. Our second gun remained silent.
As the reenactors and park visitors prepared to cross the field, this unearthly scream echoed out across the field, whoops and hollers. We could barely see the charge from our side of the field, but we could hear the Yankee artillery blasting “back” at us. We could see the Yankees on the field, clustered around the copse of trees.
It was breathtaking. During the real Pickett’s Charge, the artillery barrage lasted an hour. Supposedly, it could be heard as far away as Pittsburgh. For the two and a half hours of the charge, I just sat there and watched. I listened. It tugged on my heartstrings and honestly, there is no where else on earth I would have wanted to be. It was amazing to be in that exact spot, on that exact day, at that exact hour. Just knowing.
So that was Gettysburg! I’ve never seen so many ticks in my life! I’m bummed out that it’s over. 150 years in the making, one year of anxiously waiting, and three days of awesomeness. And attractiveness. You know I had to have my obligatory artillery picture.
What’s next for the Baltimore Light Artillery? We have our last event for the year in October, in Harpers Ferry. Word on the street has it, for next year’s events we’re looking at Monocacy and Spotsylvania for their 150th events. I think it goes without saying that I can’t wait.
And, in repeat from yesterday, I’ll leave you with my final picture from the final firing from Pickett’s Charge yesterday. Back to life as we know it, I guess. Oh. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t say Happy 4th of July to all my American friends! Have a blessed Independence Day!
“. . .the grand march moved bravely on.”