Review – Gettysburg Reenactment – Blue Gray Alliance June 27-29

July 19, 2013 - No Comments

by Jim Barnes

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The Following is a report on the Blue-Gray Alliance version of the 150th Gettysburg reenactment from our correspondent, Chuck Critchfield:

Greetings

Attached is my report on the recent disagreement at the town of Gettysburg

Scenarios

We started the weekend with McPherson’s Ridge on Friday morning. We were up early and on the road (more about that later) before 8 am. The scenario was played out in the wide fields below our hillside camps. We were sent in and ordered to blaze away at a distant Confederate unit. Strangely we were placed in front of a Confederate battery a few hundred yards at right angles to our right flank. Explanation?? It was in the wrong spot. We returned to the shade to rest and water up before we went back in a bit later as another unit altogether. Minus a half-dozen souls or so, we marched to a ridge overlooking the railroad cut. We pushed to edge of the railroad cut where strangely, we stood a few yards from the Rebs. Explanation?? The Rebs weren’t following the scenario, which called for them to retreat in the face of our advance. The Reb counterattack pushed us back up the hill. End of scenario.

 

Friday, we reenacted East Cemetery Hill during which the 7th West Virginia, as part of Carroll’s Brigade cleared the Secessionists from the hill. The morning fight had worn out a few of the men, so we marched (more about that later) a few men short of 25 to the fight. Passing through the Confederate camp to reach our jump off point, we paused by coincidence in front of one Robert E Lee. We promptly asked him to inspect our colors, the early-war regimental of the 7th W. Va., replete with theVirginia state seal. Old Granny Lee was not impressed and in character-like fashion reserved any judgment of our actions or flag other than a nod of the head. After waiting in the woods on a hillside while the scenario unfolded in the flats below us, we moved forward. Once to the bottom of the hill and reformed, we surged forward pushing the Southern men a couple hundred yards as planned. Although at one point we were just 10-15 yards away and they had to be reminded of the agreed-upon scenario which called for them retreat. After the proper interchange of insults and at least one raised middle finger, the Confederates departed our immediate front. The sun was setting and the smoke was hanging low which to a picturesque scene.

We only participated in one scenario Saturday afternoon, fighting in the Wheatfield for a couple hours. After waiting in the woods we went into the Cauldron of Death in the Wheatfield where we fought back and forth with the enemy. We first pushed them back only to have another regiment pop up a few hundred yards or so in our left and start to pour a flanking fire into our exposed flank. The regiment behind us and perpendicular to our facing, did not advance, allowing the unit on our left to get behind us. So we did a few unusual maneuvers right in the face of all this enemy fire and ended up eventually back in a tree line, safe for the time being. We were supposed to rest and refit before going back into the Wheatfield as a completely different unit. But our division commander stuck us right back in the fight where we repeated the whole scene again, pushing the Rebs back across the field towards the farmhouse only to get hit in the left flank. In truth it was one confused, back-and-forth battle, which was probably closer to the real thing than we realize.

 

Later that afternoon, the Culp’s Hill scenario erupted in the woods below us in the woods. The Federals there had erected breastworks and were attacked. I wandered down to watch from above. The woods kept the smoke and the noise close to the ground. It was an eerie scene. The Federals blazing away were hard to make out in the smoke when there was no muzzle flash and the only indication that there were Confederates was the noise from the Rebel Yell and their musketry. Just like the real thing, the fight would resume on Sunday at 8:30 (no firing before 8:30 allowed by our permit). But we were too busy getting ready for Sunday’s activities to pay much mind.

 

Sunday’s battle was of course, Pickett’s Charge. At officers’ meeting that morning, we were given detailed specific instructions on our role in the battle, even to the point of assigning some soldiers the names of the members of the 72 Pa. Later that morning, we participated in a brigade dress parade, where the new members got to giggle when the musicians were ordered to “beat off” in front of the whole brigade. We then marched down to our assigned location at the wall. The left three companies were assigned to the outer/lower wall (the wall closer to the Confederates). The remaining five companies (us included) took up our place on inner/upper wall. Being that there was about 30-45 minutes to the start of the artillery bombardment, we stacked arms and shuffled over to the “copse” of trees dividing our position into two parts to take advantage of the limited shade. At that point, our spot in the scenario started to unravel.

 

In the next 15 minutes it became apparent that the 3rd Regiment of the USV was under the impression that they were assigned the same spot on the inner/upper wall as the left 5 companies of the 1st Regiment. A discussion ensued between our commander (1st Reg.), 3rd Regiment commander and the USV commander. As a result, it was determined that we were in the wrong position. The left 5 companies would not portray the 71st Pa at the wall. So we were now portraying the 72nd Pa. which charged to The Angle at the height of the battle.

 

We were hustled back into line and through the copse of trees to the left side a hundred yards or so behind the outer/lower wall, ready to charge to the wall to repulse the Confederate high tide as it surged over the wall. However once on that side of the trees we could not line up on the left flank of the color company, as to do so would place us in front of a 6-gun battery. So we stacked the companies in what was effectively a column of divisions and stood and watched Pickett’s Charge unfold in the fields in front of us. We were elevated slightly and had a nice venue in which to watch and wait for our cue to charge.

 

I never saw our cue and on top of that, the Confederate first wave which did not reach the wall in 1863, decided to reach the wall 150 years later, throwing off the plan. So down the hill we marched to repel the Rebels. Ooops. Stop. Too early. Back up the hill to turn around and charge down the hill because the 2nd wave was now reaching the wall. There is no room for us at the wall and to complicate matters, an officer rushes in front of our company to halt us saying we were breaking scenario. The company behind us doesn’t stop and goes through us. I am ordered to find any available spot for my company. I think at this point, our company just melted into the mêlée at the wall. I am at the right most cannon of the Cushing’s Battery and as I turn I am hailed by a Confederate General propped up against the right wheel of the cannon, obviously badly wounded. It is General Armistead, who calls me to his side to give me his bible to give to General Hancock’s wife. So I am suddenly thrust into that scenario which we play out to about a dozen photographers. After that is over, I look around and shake a few hands and walk back up the hill.

 

Logistics

This reenactment was really spread out. There were plenty of well-cared for port-a-johns; plenty of water; plenty of firewood, but everything was a couple hundred yards away. To reach anything outside of Federal Camp we were instructed to catch a shuttle bus, which was located by walking almost a half mile to the bus stop. Sutlers were about a mile away. Parking was about a mile away. Walking on the township roads was forbidden under penalty of arrest by ‘state troopers.” Something about our permit from the township.

 

The shuttle buses were overwhelmed at times, leading to delays in getting around. I did hear some horror stories, but I had no bad experiences. Registration was a breeze for me, but was apparently a mess later that day.

 

Camp

 

We were in camp with the 20th Massachusetts, 2nd Michigan and 7th West Virginia. I think were were about 28 or 29 soldiers in our company before the heat and injuries took a toll. Some boys from the neighboring Pennsylvania regiment joined us for the East Cemetery Hill scenario when their Company decided not to go out on Friday night.

 

Our camp was in the woods on the ridge above the plain where most of the battles took place. In the woods we enjoyed the benefits of the shade and the restrictions of movement. Our long company street was set up around the trees. Our street mates from the 20th Massachusetts brought lawn rakes which came in handy to prepare our street. Plenty of rocks to help us create a fire pit. Accessing the camp was another matter. There were a few narrow roads leading into the woods where a few thousand Federal troops were camping. Reenactors were encouraged to drive in, drop off their gear and go park and ride the shuttle back. The roads were a bit muddy and became rutted. However, somebody with a Bobcat, would appear magically and dump limestone on the really bad spots. Traffic got snarled a few times, and tempers tested, but I did not see any major problems.

 

We all dreaded leaving Sunday because unlike the spread-out arrival of the Federal reenactors, all of us would be ready to leave at the same time. I expected gridlock and a reenactor Armageddon. I was not in a particular hurry, sitting in camp after the battle, waiting for the first wave of reenactors to arrive and cause the long awaited gridlock. But there were just not a lot of vehicles arriving. The few that did, got in, loaded up quickly and got out. Also, there were a number of reenactors waiting til Monday to bug out. So, I changed clothes, broke down camp, stacked my gear and off I went to find a shuttle. The line to the shuttle being about 3 bus-fulls long, I decided to walk the remaining distance to my car, which I could see in the field used as spectator and reenactor parking, about a mile away. Plenty of folks were walking to the parking lot at that time and nobody was being arrested.

 

Walking to the car, and driving the circuitous route back to camp took about an hour. Traffic moved, but never at a rapid pace, all the way back to camp. There were plenty of individuals along the route to direct traffic and keep it moving. Unfortunately, the road in front of our street had been closed because of the mud. But that only slowed me a minute and with help from Ed, I loaded up my stuff and was on my way out of camp. Now this proved to be the most challenging part of the journey. The road we used had been one-way all week and some bright souls had decided to buck that trend and come into camp by swimming upstream. We finally created a “Mexican standoff” about halfway to the artillery field. Our string of 3 vehicles encountered a string of 3 vehicles coming at us. Due to the narrowness of the road, we could not get by each other. They could not back up unless we moved. We could not move forward or back unless they moved. Finally after taking measurements, the guy with the French accent was able to inch his vehicle far enough forward so that I could break out of the standoff.

 

March of Death

 

Remember the march of death at the 135th? The Federals marched out the ridge through the Confederate camp to get to the jumping off point for a scenario. Meanwhile, the Confederates were doing the same in the opposite direction on the same road. Well we did it again, not once, but twice.

 

Actually it was a lot of fun watching the Confederates march past us. We got to trade insults and generally heckle them and vice versa. Whenever a group stopped beside us, we exchanged chit chat. It was nice talking to the group from Houston –Texas that is. Five or six covered wagons were part of the procession and added to the period like atmosphere deep in the woods with no 21st century conveniences apparent. I enjoyed the experience.

 

The first march was over a mile and wore out several reenactors. The second march was not that far and was highlighted by our encounter with Robert E Lee.

 

Weather

 

Hot and humid with the exception of Friday night when a brief storm seemed to temporarily clear out the humidity. It never rained enough to really affect events too much. However, when we returned from the battles each time, we were soaked in our own sweat. It might as well of rained.

 

Summary

 

I know some folks felt this was one of the worst large reenactments they had attended. To me, it was a typical big reenactment. Some things went well and some things did not. The scenarios did not play out as planned. Each day we would have an officers’ meeting to describe our assignments in the upcoming scenarios and to be honest, I can’t say that any of those scenarios went as planned. I am not going point a finger at anyone, because I am not sure where to point it. Pickett’s Charge was a mess on our end. From some of the pictures I’ve seen, the other end had 4-6 ranks deep at the wall. The wall was the exact same size as the original. In talking to Confederates, I had one tell me that they were pushed out of the way by a unit that was not supposed to make it to wall, but were going anyway cause their ancestors had been Pickett’s Charge. Unlike the other scenarios, the Culp’s Hill scenario (small, more manageable, one side behind breastworks with no maneuvering) was quite an experience. I was moved by the noise, smoke, muzzle flashes, yelling, breastworks all of which was contained in the woods at the foot of the hill.

 

On the other hand, the sheer size of the army, the music, the panorama, meeting reenactors from other countries, etc. that you find at large reenactments, was all there and was very enjoyable. And it is always a pleasure to see my pards from the First.

 

Some logistics went well and other things did not. The confusion caused by the lack of signs when you entered the site, was inexcusable. Lots of reeanctors did not know where to register. The limited access to our camps by a single road, caused a lot inconveniences.

 

Thanks to the members of the unit that participated in the event. Special thanks to First Sergeant Tennant for morning reports and other NCO duties. Thanks to Greg Bonner, 1st Corporal and Ross Wetherall who filled in a couple different NCO rolls. Thanks to the guys who volunteered for guard duty in the rain on Saturday. Ross and Greg did a good job with the guard. Thanks to the handful who made it through all the battles. The heat, the distances and the hill made it tough on everyone. Thanks to Ross and Sean for carrying the colors on Friday night. It was great to see the new members Josh Wilson, Larry and Jedidiah Smith, Paul Mullens and Greg Brondos. It was nice to see Brian and Hampton Cokeley out again. We were glad to welcome Private Stealey from the 7th W. Va. I got to meet new member Ron Wenig who did yeomen’s duty as a doctor (medic). Keith Ashley joined us for the first time. Keith is a former member of the 91st Ohio. We did see James Gilbert and Kevin Mullenax from the 25th and ran into the Jimmy Epling, long absent from our reenactments, along with other familiar faces from the 91st Ohio. Did not see Mike Butler, who reports to me by Facebook, that he was diagnosed with Lyme’s Disease right before the event.

 

If I missed anyone, my apologies.

 

Chuck Critchfield

Capt. Com’d’g Co. A, 1st West Virginia Infantry

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