‘I enlisted to fight Rebs, not dig trenches’.
Briefly illuminated by a flash of lightning, I see him grin as he pushes his spade into the sodden ground to continue our already quite extensive system. I laugh, and carry on pulling the earth away from the shovel to build up the bank. All of us are drenched through, and it’s only around half past two in the morning.
Our trench is now passing through another company’s street. Some of their officers, who have either been awakened by the storm or have only recently returned from O’Rourke’s, start yelling at us. We ignore them and keep on digging. Shortly afterwards we hear our captain give them a few well-aimed Lancastrian expletives, putting them in the place. After all, the purpose of this trench is stop the entire Union army being flushed out, not just our company.
Our soaking jackets and shirts are hanging up in a hastily made line in the company awning, where most of us evacuated to once our pup tents had been flooded out. I had been quietly enjoying watching the electrical storm, but was one of the first up when I realised that water was coming up from below. The captain and one other had already got up. As the water was running off the hill straight into our company street, we wasted little time in digging a short trench to divert it away from us, despite the pouring rain. After a few minutes huddling under the fly for warmth, we realise that so much water is coming into our trench it is already overflowing, so we have to get back out with the spades and dig deeper and longer. By this point, more people have joined us, and as they are still comparatively dry we hand them spades to keep up with us. The awning and the officer’s tent stop being flooded, and we find spaces to stand or sit. We slowly realise that whilst we are diverting the flood away from our lines, we are slowly drowning the rest of our brigade. Out we go again, and we get back to work.
We were lucky. Whilst we were digging (and being jeered at by officers and men of other companies), flashing lights are seen on the ridge. Five people, including a pregnant woman, had been taken to hospital for lightning strikes. Thankfully, they were later discharged safely.
Despite being completely and utterly soaked, there’s one thought at the back of my mind the whole time. It didn’t rain until the rebels started their retreat. A storm, two days too soon. How...farby.
It only rained that night. For the two previous days, and indeed for that Sunday, the weather was sunny. And hot. It was reaching around 100 degrees F (37 C), and someone’s small thermometer was recording 117 F inside their A-Frame. But, wilting in wool was all part of the experience. In fairness, we didn’t wear our jackets until the battles (and dress parade, which our company was excused on the Sunday anyway due to us have no dry uniforms). We drilled in our shirts, went to the sutlers and public areas shockingly underdressed (Victorians weren’t keen on men wearing just their shirts), and even paraded out to the battlefield with the jackets slung over our haversacks. To have tried to dress properly would have been madness. Annoyingly, one photographer saw us drilling like this and captioned the photo saying we were a bunch of Confederates. Grrr...
Although the heat prevented us from spending every moment drilling (we would tend to have a session in the morning before the shade disappeared, then another before the battle), there were plenty of things going on throughout the days that made braving the heat worthwhile. I was interviewed for the local paper about re-enacting in the UK, although the journalist subsequently completely mangled my words. My photo even made it onto the front page. I was thrilled to finally get a tintype made, and I manged not to spend too much in the sutlers, other than getting a new hat. There were various talks and displays going on all day, but I only caught an engaging and funny talk on the history of the film, Gettysburg, given by Patrick Falci, who played AP Hill.
As the 150th Anniversary of Bull Run was taking place a few weeks later, and 148 is not a Big Round Number anyway, there were nowhere near as many re-enactors as at the 145th. But, as a participant, I didn’t really care. Were I paying spectator, I might have been disappointed at the huge battlefield and lack of men, horses, and artillery filling it, but my only real concern was that the battles were over too quickly and we didn’t really get a chance to crush the rebellion. It was, indeed, quite depressing that in the final day’s re-enactment of Pickett’s Charge almost the entire of the Confederate Army was able to get up to the wall. The other two battles were enjoyable from our perspective, but perhaps were over too soon. Incidentally, one of the artillery officers looked like Craster in a straw hat, which was slightly disconcerting.
The three days were a fantastic way to end a brilliant trip to the US. Being nibbled by ticks might have lacked the glamour of the close encounters with grizzIies I had at Yellowstone, and being washed out of a pup tent was not exactly the most ideal way to get a good night’s rest, but other then that I really enjoyed the atmosphere surrounding the event. I would like to thank the 200th Indiana for their generous hospitality over the weekend. We were really made to feel welcome as part of their company. And sorry for possibly causing a mutiny over the right way to stack arms, but, then, our western method is so much better.
The next day was 4 July, and I was quietly amused to switch on the TV in the motel room at around 8 o'clock and see a lengthy report on William and Kate. I spent the day wandering the battlefield and buying souvenirs. After a good meal with some friends, they went off to watch some fireworks in a nearby town. I had known since the early days of planning this trip how I was going to end it, and I climbed Little Round Top on the battlefield and watched a magnificent sunset, reflecting on an excellent holiday. I can't wait to get out again.
Thanks for reading this. My photos from Gettysburg are available here