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Gettysburg, Pa.: 'Time travel' puts her at the battle front

June 29, 2013|By Catherine Watson
  • At the Civil War reenactment at Gettysburg, Pa. in 2013, on the 140th anniversary of the great battle.
At the Civil War reenactment at Gettysburg, Pa. in 2013, on the 140th anniversary… (Catherine Watson )

How do you pack for the Civil War? Heavily, very heavily indeed. I’m about to join a reenactment at the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, and I have to look the part, not of a cavalryman like the rest of my outfit, but of a civilian observer.

I’ll be depicting what I might have been in 1863 Pennsylvania -- a war correspondent embedded with a unit of Confederate cavalry.

Why Confederate? Because the Union didn’t ask.

Ten years ago, through a friend, this unit invited me to camp with them at the 140th anniversary reenactment. The experience felt like time-travel, like being inside a Mathew Brady photograph, only in living blue and gray. This spring, just when I was getting wistful about the 150th, my old unit asked me back.

I know what I’m getting into: We are going to camp “in period,’’ meaning we will eat, sleep and dress as closely as possible to the way the original combatants ate, slept and dressed.

That means sleeping in a small canvas tent, cooking food over a campfire and spending my days wearing woolen clothes too heavy to wear in a Minnesota winter. The forecast is for thunderstorms, so I’ve thrown in an old camping poncho and vinyl rain boots, but I may not be permitted to wear them in camp: They’re too "farby," the reenactor term for inauthentic.

Nothing spoils the historic mood faster than a stray Coke can or a windblown Cheetos package, and this reenactment has even tighter rules than usual. Even my favorite writing instruments are discouraged, so instead of black felt-tip pens, I’ll be taking my 150th Gettysburg notes in pencil.

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