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This summer, the Battle of Gettysburg will happen twice.
For the first time in at least a decade, two re-enactments, planned and organized by different groups, will take place on farms outside Gettysburg during the 150th anniversary of the battle.
They are expected to draw thousands of re-enactors and tens of thousands of visitors. The events are a week apart — one, organized by the Blue Gray Alliance, is June 27-30; the other, organized by the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee, is July 4-7 — but they have stirred up a civil war of sorts.
Organizers of each say their event is the best.
Some re-enactors are touting one event over the other, using platforms like Facebook.
And even visitors are wondering about the two events. Gettysburg’s tourism bureau says it’s getting calls from people asking which one they should attend.
Battle of the battles
The people behind each re-enactment are happy to tell you what makes theirs better.
Andrea DiMartino, the event media coordinator for the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee’s re-enactment, said “No one, absolutely no one, does a better re-enactment than the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee.”
She said the group “set the standard” for a well-run re-enactment. She noted this event, held at the Redding Farm outside Gettysburg, has been designated the “national” re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg by the Pennsylvania State Legislature.
The Gettysburg Anniversary Committee was founded in 1995 by community members to coordinate an annual
Federals advance at the Blue Gray Alliance 150th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Shiloh in 2012. The alliance will have re-enactors in Gettysburg in late June to put on one of two Battle of Gettysburg re-enactments this summer. According to the event website, the committee formed in response to previous re-enactment organizers who left “pathetic event logistics, unpaid bills and local carnage in their wake.”
Kris Shelton, media event coordinator for Gettysburg re-enacting newcomer Blue Gray Alliance, said its event will offer something more to spectators and re-enactors.
“In some re-enactments, you will see Blue lined up, Gray lined up, and they go at it,” Shelton said. “What the Blue Gray Alliance tries to do is create something more educational.”
They pay “greater attention to historical authenticity,” than other re-enactment groups. “From footwear, to weapons, tentage, everything. From that to the actual tactics on the battlefield.”
And the battlefield itself, which will be set up on the Bushey Farm, outside Gettysburg, has a landscape similar to the battlefield in Gettysburg, Shelton noted.
The organization was founded in 2008 so re-enactors could have more influence in planning and running large events surrounding the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Shelton said their events are “by re-enactors, for re-enactors.”
The Blue Gray Alliance decided to bring a re-enactment to Gettysburg when the opportunity to work with Longstreet’s Corps, an organization of living historians, presented itself, Shelton said.
“… we think the re-enactment community deserves a rewarding memory full of ‘historical moments,’ when we look back at the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg,” the Blue Gray Alliance posted on its website.
Shelton said the Blue Gray Alliance plans to bring a re-enactment to Gettysburg every five years.
Pick your battle
So which re-enactment is the must-see event?
Carl Whitehill, media relations manager for the Gettysburg Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the bureau isn’t picking sides. Since the organizing bodies of both re-enactments are members of the bureau, Whitehill said the bureau is promoting them both.
Whitehill said both events will be good. The one a visitor should attend “depends on when you’re in town,” he added.
But what if you can be in town for both? For some re-enactors choice boils down to “authenticity,” or ties to the units they re-enact with.
“It turns into a real battle between re-enactors as to where you’re going to go,” said Andre Wagner, a re-enactor from Beavertown, Pa., in Snyder County.
Wagner said he will attend the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee re-enactment with his unit, the Federal General Corps, in which he portrays Gen. Francis Barlow. Many of his friends will attend the Blue Gray Alliance re-enactment.
He said there is no bad blood between him and his friends over going to different events, and he explained some re-enactors are planning to attend both. However, there is some “re-enacting politics, just like modern day politics” at play.
Ivan Frantz Jr., secretary and treasurer of the Capt. Edgar M. Ruhl, Camp No. 33 of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, said people should take the authenticity of each event with a grain of salt.
Re-enactments, he said, “will give you a good picture (of the historical event) and somewhat of a feeling of what those people went through. But, you know, just like when you go to see a magic show, you can’t always believe everything your eyes see.”
Frantz, who participated in re-enacting events in Ohio, Maryland, Delaware, Indiana and Pennsylvania, including re-enactments in Gettysburg, and was an active member of the committee that hosted the re-enactment in Gettysburg in 1980, said he stopped re-enacting about 30 years ago. Although he still attends a few events a year, mainly parades and ceremonies, and he’s a member of The Civil War Roundtable of Gettysburg, Frantz said the re-enacting politics got to be too much for him.
“I got tired of people saying how authentic they were and everybody else didn’t measure up to their standards of authenticity,” Frantz said.
He said no one re-enacting today is “authentic.” While the Gettysburg re-enactments will offer entertainment and a loose idea of what happened there 150 years ago, he advised visitors looking for an authentic display of history visit a museum, not a re-enactment.
As for the re-enactors who tout themselves as the most authentic, Frantz has some advice for them, too.
“If they want to be authentic, let them live on a diet of hardtack, maggot-infested beef, maybe a little salt pork or bacon, and cornmeal for two months before they go to their next re-enactment,” he said.
Why not re-enact on the Gettysburg battlefield?
Re-enactments are prohibited on the actual battlefield in Gettysburg.
The rule applies to all national park land. Battle re-enactments and demonstrations of battle tactics that involve the exchange of gunfire, the taking of casualties and any form of warfare are prohibited, according to National Park Service policy.
“Even the best-researched and most well-intentioned representation of combat cannot replicate the tragic complexity of real warfare,” according to the policy. “Respect the memory for those whose lives were lost at these sites and whose unrecovered remains are often still interred in these grounds precludes the staging of inherently artificial battles at these memorial sites.”
Holding re-enactments on private land instead of the battlefield also allows the National Park Service to preserve and protect park resources. Both re-enactments in Gettysburg this summer will be held on private land, not on the battlefield.
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