Thursday, May 29, 2008

Memorial Day in Gettysburg...

...and we dressed for the occasion! Memorial Day to me is the most important non-religious holiday. Without the veterans who we are remembering and honoring, we wouldn't be celebrating anything. We owe them all our thanks and respect for our very existence. They've laid it on the line, and many never made it home to see the result of their sacrifice. Many more have come home battered and torn, both physically and mentally, and for all of them, their lives have never been or will never be the same! Truly, where would we be without them?

That said, the Gettysburg Memorial Day parade has always been my favorite. It's short enough and laid back enough that as a participant, one can interact with the crowd. The people are appreciative, and it is also a true honor to be able to shake the hands of the many veterans who come out to see the parade. Many of them thank us for coming out, which is very ironic, since by coming out, we are trying to thank them. It is a great parade for all, and I'm proud to be able to be a part of it.

Pictured with me above is my good friend Karl. Karl has a Civil War uniform, but a short time ago, I asked him, if I helped suit him up for it, would he like to go as a WWII participant? Obviously he agreed, so we did it. (Karl, it was good to know you had my back. Thanks!) We got Bobbie out to see the parade, along with Karl's girlfriend Donna, our good friends Frank and Regina from NYC, another friend Ed, and the most important (at least to me), my new girlfriend Lori. It was great to see them all in a group waiting for us near the end of the route. We had a lot of moral support!

Aferward it was to lunch at TGI Friday's, and then a bit of R&R time. It truly was a great day!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A person with more courage and dedication...

...than I'll ever have is my friend, Matt. Before we get too far, let's rewind little bit.

About 15 yrs. ago, when I began Civil War reenacting, I remember meeting an annoying, 14-yr-old kid from home who also thought he was a reenactor. I kept seeing him at events, and got to know him a little better. I basically watched him make the transition from annoying kid to responsible adult, and I'm glad I was there for it. He became quite the reenactor.

Every year, at the Gettysburg reenactment, it seemd like no matter the scenario, Matt's unit and mine met across the lines, and we found ourselves engaged. As the fight ended we always got to talking, and we got to know each other a little better.

A few years ago, I got Matt into a grey uniform, and he had fun. Since then, we've made the trips to Cedar Creek, Fredericksburg, and a few other major reenactments, and we've gone on more than our share of adventures. I even got Matt into a WWII uniform, and he and I 'hit the beaches of Normandy' during the annual D-Day reenactment on Lake Erie in Ohio. Through it all Matt and I became good friends. I love him like a brother.

Last year, Matt and his girlfriend Crystal (in the photos above, a girl who's also pretty awesome herself) spent an incredible weekend in Gettysburg. Matt has an ancestor who fought here, in the 62nd Pa in the Wheatfield, so we paid our respect at their monument, and at the PA Monument as well.

Matt is a kid who's been dealt a pretty tough blow. He lost his mom to an illness some 7 or 8 years ago. Rather than sulk and cry, Matt used this as a life experience and became stronger as a result. He's been trying to fulfill his life's dreams. He got his teaching certificate, and became a full-time teacher in a school district in a small town in NW PA.

But, there was always one dream he had, and one he was determined to accomplish. Matt wanted to be a US Marine. So, what did he do about it? He enlisted. At age 28, Mr. G, as his students call him, is headed for Parris Island on May 19th. "Crazy!" you say? "What the heck is he thinking?" You know what? This guy's stubborn enough, and detemined enough that he will actually do it, and prevail!

Mr. G, we're all gonna miss you the next three months or so. You'll be thought of often! Just remember, at the end of 'the Crucible', and when you're eating the warrior breakfast, your life will never be the same. You'll have done something amazing, and all of us who know you will have an even higher level of respect for you! Good luck!

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Retreat of the Confederate Army...

...from Gettysburg is something that has always interested me. I had heard a lot of the white-washed, mainstream hype about how Meade and the Army of the Potomac had Lee's army in their grasp and didn't pursue, how the war could have ended right then and there, and about how little or no fighting happened during the retreat. When was younger, I thought it was true.

Then, about 13 years ago in the case of one, about 9 years ago in the case of a second, and about 7 years ago in the case of the third, I met some guys who about five years ago decided they were going to do something to change this myth. These guys felt that though they were in many cases minor, a series of fights occurred during the retreat, and that any tarnish to the reputation of JEB Stuart for being late coming to Gettysburg would be polished away by his conduct of protecting both the Confederate wagon trains, and the retreating Confederate army during the retreat.

I had heard of places such as Funkstown, Falling Waters, Williamsport and a few others, but had never been there. I was in Gettysburg on a few occasions when this group of soon-to-be-retreat experts made treks with others to Williamsport, but I had never gone along. Then, talk of a book on the retreat turned into action, and I was told (more than once) "Wait til the book comes out! You'll see just how much actually did happen in the ten days following the battle and during the retreat!"

In a previous post, I have mentioned this book, some smaller expeditions through the mountains near Fairfield, and my trip along the retreat of the Confederate wagon train of wounded. I had never done the entire retreat of the army, though I often wanted to (Seriously, little or no documentation of where to go or what to see was one of the reason that prevented such an excursion!).

Well, this past week, I got to make the trip. It was awesome! It was only two days ago, and I want to do it again! My good friend, Karl, and I left Gettysburg at around 1pm, and we got back around 8pm. Seven hours, you say? Seven hours well and truly spent, I say!

The book is called One Continuous Fight , and is due out in about 3 weeks. It has very detailed driving tours of both the retreat of the wounded wagon train and the retreat of the army. GPS coordinates are provided, as are distances between stops, directions, and places of interest. There are descriptions of what happened where along the way.

Two bits of advice: Don't try this trip alone. Without someone to navigate, you'll at least get frustrated, but you probably won't make it! Also, be prepared to go to some very isolated and off-the-beaten-path areas. You truly will at times feel like you are in the middle of nowhere! Why? Because you are!

Some of the jewels of this trip are the numerous period homes and barns along the way. Many areas have to look now almost as they did to the soldiers as they passed by. Also, something I never realized was the proximity of this retreat route to the town of Sharpsburg and the Antietam battlefield. You come within about six miles as you cross the Sharpsburg Pike at Jones' Crossroads.

To the authors, continued kudos to a job extremely well done! Yinz guys rock! To anyone considering trying either of the tours out, take a day and do it! You'll not be disappointed. Finally, to anyone who's already done it, spread the word! The tours alone are worth the price of the book!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Something positive out of all of this...

...for a change is the movie A New Birth of Freedom being shown in the new Gettysburg Visitor's Center. It's narrated by Morgan Freeman, has Sam Waterston doing the Gettysburg Address and it's worth seeing.

In typical new-VC fashion, it is a bit on the side of being politically correct. You start out with the issue of slavery, the causes of the war, etc. When the armies get to Gettysburg, the movie gets good. I do have a question about it, though; it ends with a segment on Martin Luther King. Why? I understand the tie-in to the new birth of freedom, reconstruction, and the civil rights movement, but MLK in a Gettysburg museum? I don't know. It's still worth a look-see, though.

The only two complaints I have about it are that at 22 minutes, it's not quite long enough (I understand for the average visitor, too much longer would have turned them away, though), and the $8 price of admission. That also is undestandable. You do have to help pay for the 'free museum' somehow!

If you go to the center, take the time, spend the money, and enjoy it. You'll not be disappointed!