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Civil War Diary

Gettysburg Preservation & Commemoration, 150 Years in the Making

Part 2

John Miller
Emmitsburg Area Historical Society

Read Part 1

As Gettysburg became a tourist attraction, it was important for people to learn about what happened there. As a result, education and interpretation became a vital asset. In 1931, Verne Chatelain was appointed as the head of the historical division within the National Park Service. As the National Park Service was expanding, this was also during another lapse in Americaís Depression.

When the National Park Service took over Gettysburg, the park had several maintenance issues that needed attention. During his first review from October 1933 to September 1934, Superintendent James R. McConaghie explained that the Gettysburg Battlefield had operational activities in the form of Administration, Protection, Maintenance, Repairs and Alterations. For example, over twenty-two miles of roads had to be maintained and repaired. This review also had the total number of positions that were needed in order to run the park. Such as mowing, thirty-nine miles worth of fences, and the care of markers and cannon that dot the landscape at Gettysburg, and add to the numbers of visitors to the battlefield.

In 1933 alone, more than 45,000 people came to Gettysburg, as reported by the tour guides. On top of that more than 11,000 buses and cars came to Gettysburg where a tour guide gave a tour. For actual stats on the number of visits, it was estimated that almost 200,000 people came to Gettysburg. This number was down compared to 1929, when over 700,000 people came. The drop was due to the Great Depression. Because of the cost of maintenance, preservation, and staff, the Gettysburg National Military Park relied upon the New Deal. The Civilian Conservation Corps came to Gettysburg to help with park maintenance. Also historical interpreters were on hand to tell the story of Gettysburg.

In 1938, seventy-five years had passed since the days of the battle. The attendance wasnít near what it was twenty-five years earlier. There were about 8,000 Civil War veterans that were still living. Out of that number only 1,359 Union soldiers and 486 Confederate soldiers attended the reunion. Out of those numbers, twenty-five of those veterans actually fought in the Battle of Gettysburg. President Franklin Roosevelt came to Gettysburg and dedicated the Peace Light Memorial.

As the Gettysburg National Military Park entered into the 1940ís, a war was erupting in Europe. As the United States entered into World War Two against Japan and Germany, raw materials and scrap metal were needed for the war efforts in Europe and the Pacific. Gettysburg was called upon, since its resources included many metals that were used on the monuments, fences, cannon, tablets, as well as scrap metal. However, Gettysburg was spared when the war ended in 1945.

During the 1940ís brochures of the battlefield were made and handed out to the public. The National Park Service purchased the famous Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama painting, which measures 377 feet in circumference and is 42 feet high. By 1956, Gettysburg National Military Park began to prepare for the fiftieth Anniversary of the National Park Service, which would occur in 1966. This preparation called for the resurfacing of roads, the mending of fences, and fixing farms and houses that sat on the battlefield.

However, 1961 would mark a very important year, the 100th Commemoration or Centennial of the American Civil War. The reason I wanted to provide my readers with the history of the Gettysburg National Military Park was because it went hand in hand with those Veteran Reunions. It was because of those veterans and a few people who realized the impact that Gettysburg had, or was going to have, as time moved forward into history.

To me, the Centennial is where the modern Gettysburg experience that we see today comes from. This is when you really start seeing reenacting units forming. This practice, although new, does have its roots planted in the 1950ís with the North South Skirmish Association (N-SSA). Although not considered reenactors, these guys would purchase ready made clothing made from cotton twill or wool from a modern times catalog.

During this time period, if one wanted to reenact, your choices of uniforms were very limited. There were enough original Union uniform items that were, at the time, still considered as surplus, or you could order from a Vanhorn catalog for uniform parts. As mentioned above, items from the Sears catalog were often worn. If you wanted to progress and be authentic, you had to research the items and try to make them by hand in your home. The availability of material/cloth made it difficult to make authentic Civil War reproductions. Some guys wore original Union surplus such as greatcoats, forage caps, leather accouterments and shoes. As the Centennial gained popularity, many Civil War collectors were born and soon started purchasing uniforms which drove up the prices of the surplus.

The reenactments during the 1960ís were not exactly like the ones you would see today. Mass mobs of guys, National Guardsmen and some NSSA members would recreate battle scenes. Some of my colleagues who participated in some of the reenactments remember hearing the sudden burst of the M-14 rifle by the National Guardsmen, and seeing Confederate reenactors wearing clothing from the Sears, Roebuck & Company catalog.

By 1963, there were no living veterans of the American Civil War. With it being such a huge event in American history, commemoration was needed. This is where a new Gettysburg event would unfold and set the standards for what we see today with regards to the reenactments. By the end of the Gettysburg reenactment, the National Park Service put a stop to reenactments being conducted on government owned land due to the trash that was left behind.

By the end of the Centennial, Civil War reenacting had gained in popularity, and it continues to this day. As time went on, for those who wanted more authentically made uniforms, they researched the original pieces that were left out there. As research has gotten better and information made more publicly available, the uniforms gradually got better. Even then, the authentically made cloth didnít become mass produced until the 1980ís. Almost twenty years after the first reenactment, museum quality clothing would be made with the authentic material. One gentleman in particular, Charlie Childs was the front runner in cloth, uniforms and pattern making. I have met Charlie a few times and even to this day, he is considered the best of the best and he continues to making items to this day.

Today, reenactors can go to Gettysburg and buy uniforms off the rack. Whether you are a mainstream reenactor or an authentic campaigner, people like Charlie Childs, Jim Warehiem, Les Jensen, Fred Gaede, Dave Jurgella, Ross Kimmel, and Tim Sheads all contributed their research to the hobby. These guys were the ones who set the standard for uniforms in which the second and third generation of sutlers would follow. Not to mention, people like Dirty Billy who mass produced kepis and head gear, and Nick Duvall who has completed many hours of leather research. The whole entire uniform of a reenactor would look and feel as it was the real thing.

Thank you to the formal Maryland State Parks Historian Ross Kimmel for sharing his stories about reenacting during the Centennial of the American Civil War.

Read more about Emmitsburg in the Civil War