Immigrants play their role in Gettysburg
It hardly sounds like a dream honeymoon: a week charging around a battleground reverberating with the clamor of 135 cannons, the reek of gunpowder smoke and the cacophony of 12,000 soldiers and 400 horses.
Yet for Polish newlyweds Madeline and Lukas Kus, the noise and violence are the main attraction. The couple, both 30-year-olds from Warsaw, are among scores of non-Americans – some from as far afield as Australia – who have come to Pennsylvania to take part in two reenactments commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in the first week of July.
The Kuses are two of six Poles here to remember the Polish Brigade, originally formed by Polish-American Walery Sulakowski in August 1861. Almost two years later, the brigade, part of the 14th Louisiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment, was deployed to Gettysburg to take part in the largest battle of the American Civil War. Casualties (killed, missing in action, wounded or captured) for Union and Confederate troops totaled 50,000.
Madeline Kus, who is portraying a Confederate drummer boy in the June 27-30 reenactment organized by the Blue Gray Alliance, has been taking part in Civil War re-creations for more than two years.
A second reenactment, sponsored by the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee, will take place at a farm near Gettysburg on July 4-7. That version is expected to include about 300 foreign-born reenactors from a range of countries including Canada, Austria, France, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark and Britain.
All the simulated encounters take place on private farmland. “Officers” assign roles in famously well-known and researched engagements within the battle of Gettysburg, like Pickett’s Charge or the battle of Devil’s Den, and participants arrive already knowledgeable and prepared to feign death.
Military historian Professor Peter Stanley of the Australian Centre for the Study of Armed Conflict and Society at the University of New South Wales, Canberra, will be among the group in the second event.
“I’ll be wearing the ‘undress’ uniform of a major of the 101st Royal Bengal Fusiliers,” said Stanley, author of 25 books, most of them on military history. That means a dark blue patrol jacket, lavender-blue trousers and a cap.
“I’ll be representing one of the British officers who spent time with both sides observing the war in America. Some British officers came especially; many came down from their stations in Canada. My major is stopping off on the way home from India on leave. I’ll be ‘armed’ with a walking stick, since I’m just observing,” he said.
Stanley said he got hooked on his academic specialty after reading Robert Alter’s “Heroes in Blue and Gray” at the age of 11.
For 72-year-old Frederick “Derek” Philips, of Scotland, who portrays Captain William Wilcox of the 95th New York, the occasion affords the chance to relive history. Philips, a member of the American Civil War Society in the UK, said he participates in about five such events a year in the British Isles.
Philips, a history teacher who has visited Gettysburg several times in the past, said he met members of the Confederation of Union Generals 10 years ago at the commemoration. “I was invited to join as an (aide-de-camp) to Major General John F. Reynolds. Wilcox was with General Reynolds when he was killed at Gettysburg on the first day of the battle.”
Gettysburg officials are expecting 250,000 visitors to visit the small south-central Pennsylvania borough of about 7,700 residents for the anniversary. To accommodate them, officials have hired law enforcement and emergency service personnel to provide security and related services.
As a result of the Boston Marathon bombing earlier this year, authorities have put additional security measures in place, banning large backpacks from grandstands and deploying additional police and emergency service personnel.