Thursday, July 19, 2012

149th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg

As many of you here in the States experienced the weekend before last, the weather on the day of our attendance at the Battle of Gettysburg reenactment (July the 7th) was pretty unbelievably hot.  The actual temperature that Saturday reached exactly 100 degrees, with a heat index of between 105 and 110.  No "excessive heat warning" could adequately describe how HOT that really felt.  We had already pre-purchased our tickets, however, so we trooped out to the grounds at around 10:00, well-armed with multiple bottles of water, umbrellas, and sunscreen.  Ashley arrived dressed for the period, but even the summery weight of her sheer cotton dress was no match for the virtual oven we were walking in and she ended up exchanging her four layers of 1860s dress for one layer of 2012 dress in about an hour.  It was a valiant effort, but with baking quite literally from the outside in in that heat, it was next to impossible not to overheat, so she reluctantly gave in.  In other words, sorry, no in-costume pictures from this event.  :-(

Gettysburg battle reenactment
Period musicians entertain the spectators between scheduled events.

The annual reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg is organized and sponsored by the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee, who donate a portion of the proceeds from the event to local organizations and charitable causes.  Because no firearms can be discharged on National Park property, the annual reenactment is held on the outskirts of the town on privately-owned farmland.  The property and the surrounding area are lovely and very picturesque, with rolling hills of green fields, groves of trees, and farmhouses and barns perched comfortably into the landscape.  One could easily imagine that that was just what the opposing armies themselves saw almost 150 years ago when they walked into town and into sight of each other.  Even the heat was, in this case, historically accurate and helped to contribute to the atmosphere of the event (for better or worse...!).

Gettysburg battle reenactment
Saturday morning's cavalry demonstration.

We arrived just in time to watch the cavalry battle demonstration, and were shocked at how sparse the attendance was.  After hearing so much about this event, we were fully expecting crushing crowds of spectators and reenactors, but people had obviously (sensibly) been deterred by the heat and were strategically timing their attendance throughout the day to avoid standing out in the sun any longer than they had to for specific programs.  A decent audience appeared (pretty suddenly!) just in time for the demonstration, which was skillfully executed.  This being our first Civil War reenactment, I was most interested simply in noting the differences between what we typically see on the battlefield at our Rev War events, and what was being shown here.  We were especially looking forward to seeing this portion of the programming, as two of our Civil War ancestors (though not the one who was actually at Gettysburg) were members of a cavalry unit.

Gettysburg battle reenactment
Saturday morning's cavalry demonstration.

Following the mini battle, we wandered through the extensive sutler row in search of treasures and thoroughly enjoyed chatting with the vendors, many of whom had nearly empty tents due to the low attendance and were very eager to engage in friendly conversation.  Ashley made a purchase and I was tempted by some fabric, but after spending a minor fortune at Needle and Thread the day before, I nobly left it behind.  Finally overwhelmed by the oppressive heat after about an hour of shopping, we decided to leave for an air-conditioned lunch break and return in time for the afternoon programs.

Gettysburg battle reenactment
Sutler's row...nearly deserted in the heat.

Refreshed from lunch, we returned to the battlefield site in time to witness a renewal of marriage vows in 1863 style.  There was originally a real wedding scheduled to be performed, in view of the public, but the couple backed out at the last minute because of the heat.  As the pastor proceeded through the vow renewal ceremony of a volunteer couple that stepped in instead, he paused periodically to describe the finer points of a mid-nineteenth-century marriage ceremony.  A question and answer session followed, in which he went on to discuss the differences in the language of the vows between then and now, the tradition of walking the bride down the aisle, and the negotiations of marriage contracts that went on prior to the actual celebration of a marriage.

Gettysburg battle reenactment
A Civil War renewal of vows.
(Ignore the microphone.  It was a BIG tent.)

In between this program and the next, we toured the extensive "living history village," which featured an impressive variety of reenactors representing period organizations (like the Christian Commission), demonstrating period activities (I admit, I loved the toys and games!), and sharing period crafts and hand-made products (like the quilt below, *sigh*).  I was so impressed by the depth of knowledge displayed by these folks, and thoroughly enjoyed chatting with many of them and hearing them share their enthusiasm for the period and the hobby.  I wish some of the larger Rev War events that tend to draw the bigger public crowds would consider doing something like this "living history village," to give those of us who have a predominantly non-military impression a chance to share and discuss some of the civilian details of 18th-century life.

Gettysburg battle reenactment
A lovely quilt in progress.

Gettysburg battle reenactment
One of the activities of the Christian Commission was to write letters
home for soliders who were either wounded or had never learned to write.

Next came the highlight of the day: a delightful fashion show presented by Carolann Schmitt.  Carolann is the founder and proprietress of the Genteel Arts Academy, which holds periodic conferences and workshops relating to the fashions of the 1860s.  The fashion show began, of course, with ladies' garments, discussing first the ubiquitous Victorian wrapper (I love that print)...

Gettysburg battle reenactment

...and then moving on to the underpinnings, including the chemise, drawers, corset, and underpetticoat.

Gettysburg battle reenactment

This was followed, of course, by the addition of the cage crinoline and a tucked petticoat, before finally adding...

Gettysburg battle reenactment

...a very lovely sheer multi-color gingham dress complete with accessories.  So pretty!

Gettysburg battle reenactment

We then were treated to a glimpse of additional fashionable options of the period, including the basque (huzzah for stripes!)...

Gettysburg battle reenactment

...and another sheer dress and drawn bonnet ensemble.

Gettysburg battle reenactment

Finally, a gentleman in summer linen and an unlined waistcoat completed the show.  Carolann's narration throughout was very nuanced and interesting and addressed an impressive variety of fashion-related subjects, from textile production to popular fabric choices to construction details of the garments to the fashions appropriate for certain age groups.  It was a most excellent program and definitely my favorite of the day (you're not surprised, I know...!).

Gettysburg battle reenactment

We had been looking forward to seeing the full-fledged battle that afternoon, but they pushed the time later into the early evening because of the heat.  By that point, though, we were sweltering and physically couldn't stand the heat any longer, so we were forced to give in and call it a day, very sorry to miss the main event.  Plans are already well underway for next year's 150th weekend, however, which promises to be bigger and better, so chances are we'll be back soon to make up for leaving early this year!

Additional photos from the reenactment, as well as the rest of our Gettysburg weekend trip, can be found on our flickr page.

3 comments:

Scene in the Past said...

It's so good to see these pictures! Heat like that (common where I live) is why we do NOT have summer reenactments in Texas. Although June and September can be miserable, too - one event on the last weekend of September hit 99. I'm sorry you had to experience it.

I'm excited about the 150th. My whole family drove three days to get to the 135th, and it remains close to our best experience ever. Apparently the 150th will be at the same site. Wonderful! I'm seriously going to look into coming.

Rachel said...

Oh oh oh, I love all the pictures! The quilt makes me drool all over and the fashion show pictures are fantastic! What a treat! The cavalry gives me cold chills as well! What a great time!

Jocelyn said...

Hi Ashley and Rebecca! My name is Jocelyn Green and I write Civil war novels. My first just released- called Wedded to War--and right now I'm writing one set in Gettysburg the summer of 1863 through summer of 1864. I wish I could have attended this re-enactment you described! I have two questions for you. First, can I have your permission to use the photo of the Christian Commission "soldiers letter writing" table on my own blog at jocelyngreen.com? If so, please let me know who to give credit to. Second, I was so interested to see the info about weddings back then. In my novel, a wounded soldier at Gettysburg is going to marry his civilian care-taker. But I haven't been able to find much about the requirements or what a wedding would have been like. Can you share any info with me? My email is jocelyn@jocelyngreen.com. for more information about my novel series, see www.heroinesbehindthelines.com.
Thank you!