July 4, 2008 found our family standing to the side of the Battle of Gettysburg. http://www.gettysburgreenactment.com/ As the valley dropped away before us the hush tone settled over the audience and a troop of soldiers moved silently from the edge of the woods and farm below. A bugle call pierced the hot summer air and the sound of pounding hooves reverberated like thunder. The battle began and slowly through the maneuvers and skirmishes it drew closer. The zing of the bullets ( blanks) and the boom of cannon shook the earth and air. The sulphur smell grew increasingly strong and soaked into the senses.
As I stood mesmerized by the look at history unfolding in front of us I felt a tremor, the earth vibrating, an odd feel for someone who never experienced an earth quake but what I thought it was for a moment. Then the shouting voices and the rumble. I spun on my heel to watch as on the open dirt road behind us a team of draft horses came rumbling along at a gallop pulling a cannon with limber wagon in tow. The tremor grew, through shudder to quake and subsided as they flew past. The wind tossed manes and the sense of urgency of the driver raised the adrenaline. In that moment the time warp opened and I could have easily believed I had slipped through all the years to the real Battle on a 4th of July in the blazing heat 145 years earlier.
An ambulance wagon careened onto the battle field, it’s crew diving off to gather the ” wounded” and retreat to the farm road and off to the hospital tents. On the hill, row on row of tents portrayed the encampment of the Union army and down across the valley a similar camp for the Confederate brothers. The battle played out its well choreographed scenario taken directly from the battle reports of Civil War generals. Soon it came to a halt with the last couple of rounds punctuating the growing quiet and the armies pulled out of the valley and the columns of blue and gray filtered off into camp.
We walked through camp to see soldiers frying a bit of bacon, mending clothes, toting firewood and water and the families tending their wounded and bringing camp life to a realistic forte’. We descended the huge field to the tree line and the temperature dropped a good 10 degrees. Picketed to the lines between trees were the horses of the cavalry divisions on the field that day. Some 500 horses were present and the unison stomping at flies and nickers were a common chorus of the equine camp life. Huge tanks of water had been brought into the camp and there was plenty of stockpiled feed and comfort for the animal actors in the huge production of our historical heritage. We walked through camp and soon enough found the New Hampshire Cavalry and our friend Dick Moody, of New Boston Livery, www.http://home.comcast.net/bndmoody/ and Geoff Smith a cavalry cohort and friend, of Never Done Farm http://www.neverdonefarm.net/ . It was nice among the thousands of faces to find a friend and compliment him on the battle that brought the true meaning July 4 appreciation to us.
This was the day the real meaning of Independence earned, was brought home. We live in a sterile and clean environment. The press tries to infiltrate with their pictures and video clips but somehow we miss the total feeling of the horrors of war and the sacrifices. Here with the ground quaking, the deafening thunder of cannon, the blowing snorting fire of the General’s horse, the sweat and grime of infantry, I felt it, WAR. Here was the full reality portrayed, known to our military and those caught in a place of battle we can revere the July 4th holiday with an increased appreciation through reenactment and historical recreation of events. From this place I have taken content and emotion, feeling and sensory stimulation to bring my historical stories to life. History isn’t the date and name on a test, it’s the earth shaking, sulphur ridden battlefield, the screams, bugles and drums of battle, history was alive and through story I try to take you there.