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Large scale reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg planned

posted Jun 19, 2013, 3:41 AM by Beverly Vaughan
At Redding Farm in the Gettysburg area, reenactors thrilled the crowd with cannon fire during a recent anniversary of the battle.

The scale of the battle is nothing short of mind-boggling.

With up to 15,000 Civil War reenactors re-creating the epic clash at Gettysburg for its July sesquicentennial, and about 80,000 spectators watching, the tiny crossroads town will become one of Pennsylvania's most populous municipalities, if only for a few days.

The Union and Confederate "soldiers" will come from all 50 states and will be joined by nearly 300 from 16 foreign countries, including Australia, France, Japan, Spain, Germany, Britain, and Ireland. An additional 245 visitors are flying in from 18 countries, including Israel and Finland.

And what a spectacle they'll see - and feel. The concussive blasts of at least 135 artillery pieces will thump chests and fill the air with the acrid smell of gunpowder and sulfur. The ground will quake beneath the hooves of more than 400 horses.

But the re-creation of this pivotal piece of 1863 history, to be held from July 4 to 7, will come with modern twists.

One hundred and fifty years after the battle, the immense needs of so many people and animals will be provided by organizers of the bloodless event. They'll supply 2,000 bales of hay, six 6,000-gallon water tankers, and 100 cords of camp firewood, not to mention 300 porta-johns.

And for those unable to attend, the battle will come to them. They can watch the highlights - including the live reenactment of the climatic Pickett's Charge - on the computer, tablet, or smartphone. History buffs can pay $12.99 to subscribe A DVD production - directed by historical filmmaker Rob Child - will be completed by November and offered for sale.

"We're ready," said Randy L. Phiel, chairman of the Adams County commissioners and operations manager of the reenactment. "The only thing we can't control is the weather.

"If it's really hot, we can deal with that," he said. But if there are heavy or prolonged rains, "the turf will go south and it's tough to operate. Only the good Lord can control that."

The historical Woodstock-like event is being held by the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee: Phiel, a retired National Park Service law enforcement ranger and Gettysburg native; Tony Strickland, another native, who has four gift shops in Gettysburg; and George H. Lomas, who attended Germantown High School and has shops in town.

It will be held on the Redding and Entwistle farms along Table Rock Road north of town, where the organizers have gone to great lengths to portray the fighting of July 1 to 3, 1863, even building a stone wall to mimic one that shielded Union forces. Spectator admission is $35 for a day, $90 for four days.

Another Gettysburg reenactment held by the Blue Gray Alliance will be from June 27 to 30 at the Bushey Farm on Pumping Station Road. More than 8,000 reenactors have registered and thousands of $10 tickets have been purchased, said Kris Shelton, an event spokeswoman, who lives in Raleigh, N.C.

"Our event is reenactor-friendly," said Shelton, whose organization will provide water to participants to cope with heat. "We're focused on the reenactor experience.

"We're not putting on a show or demonstration," she said. "Units will be moving as they did - on similar terrain."

As many as 500 reporters from across the world are expected to cover both reenactments.

At the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee event, about 400 workers will help provide security, oversee parking, manage the gates, sell merchandise, shuttle the handicapped, and take water and hay to horses.

Other, smaller reenactments organized by the committee usually cost about $300,000 to put on, Phiel said. This one will run more than three times that. It's funded by ticket and merchandise sales, reenactor registration fees, and private capital.

Spectators will browse Civil War-related wares, attend music performances, see period balls, and visit Yankee and rebel camps spread over 800 acres.

The grounds are being prepared and work will continue over the next few weeks. Organizers spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to lay gravel roads and build small bridges to reenactor camps on the leased farms. And they will install about 1,000 feet of five-rail fencing like the kind the gray ranks met when they tried to cross Emmitsburg Pike in Pickett's Charge.

Spectator stands, mountains of mulch, and dozens of watering troughs for horses have been acquired, too.

"I feel a responsibility to a lot of folks - visitors, reenactors, and the community," Phiel said. "This might be the last opportunity for a really large, significant reenactment."

Next year's event will be moved to a smaller site, organizers said.

"This is an aging hobby; younger folks are not as much into it," Phiel said. "It's the cost of the kit [about $1,200 for a rank-and-file soldier] and cost of gasoline" to travel long distances to Civil War events in several states.

The 150th anniversary "creates more enthusiasm," said C. David Redding, owner of the Redding farm, where most of the reenactments and other events are planned. "A lot of the older reenactors have been holding on to be part of this."

The grandstand area, activities tents, living history demonstrations, and sprawling Union encampment will be on Redding's land. "We're busy preparing for it all the time," he said.

The event "will be a lot bigger than people realize," said Jim Entwistle, who owns the adjacent farm where the Confederate encampment is located. "But the guys who are running it are really organized. I'll just sit back and enjoy it."

One of Entwistle's fields will not be baled so that the reenactors can recreate the so-called Battle of the Wheatfield on July 2, 1863, said Entwistle, who has hosted the event several times. He marvels at the authenticity and attention to detail.

"I have a bunch of grandkids and their favorite part is watching it up close, when the Confederates are marching down the driveway with 'Gen. Robert E. Lee' leading them on horseback," he said.

The battle is choreographed so each unit knows where it will be, Phiel said. Pyrotechnic ground explosions will go off during Pickett's Charge as the Southerners disassemble the fence along Table Rock Road - representing Emmitsburg Pike - for the final charge toward federal troops along the stone wall, known as the Angle.

Not many will make the wall, but those that do will engage in hand-to-hand combat, pushing the federals back until reserves pour in to end the attack. Soldiers fall as they feel led by circumstances around them.

At the battle culmination, "Taps" will be played while reenactors stand at attention. Then, hats will be thrown in the air and blue and gray soldiers will shake hands across the wall.

"It will be one heck of a visual," said Phiel.

Gettysburg: By the Numbers

The four-day reenactment, July 4-7, will be held along Table Rock Road north of Gettysburg, at a total cost of $900,000. The event will include:

80,000 spectators including 245 from 18 countries

15,000 reenactors from all 50 states including 300 from 16 countries

1,000 feet of fencing

800 acres of battle grounds and camps

500 reporters from around the world

400 horses

Six 6,000-gallon water tankers

2,000 bales of hay

400 workers

300 porta-johns

135 artillery pieces

100 cords of camp firewood

$35 for a one day spectator ticket; $90 for all four days.


Visit  for more coverage, including videos, Inquirer Civil War front pages, and an interactive map of Civil War sites in Philadelphia.

Contact Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or