‘Keeping history alive:’ Centre County re-enactors to be among thousands telling stories of Gettysburg for 150th anniversary

cminemye@centredaily.comJune 28, 2013 

  • Coming Sunday

    An in-depth look at the 148th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment and its soldiers from Centre County.

    As the Civil War was raging in 1863, Penn State was fighting to establish itself as an education center.

    Penn State student relishes work at Gettysburg battlefield.

    Your guide to Centre County-related sites at Gettysburg for the battle’s 150th anniversary.

    Collectors scramble for Civil War antiques.

  • More information

    IF YOU GO

    June 28-20

    •  150th Commemoration and Reenactment of the Battle of Gettysburg, sponsored by Blue-Gray Alliance.

    •  www.bluegraygettysburg.com

    •  battle reenactments, music, speakers.

    July 4-7

    •  150th Gettysburg Anniversary National Civil War Battle Reenactment, sponsored by Gettysburg Anniversary Committee.

    •  www.gettysburgreenactment.com

    •  battle reenactments, music, speakers.

    •  Centre County-based 148th Pennsylvania Regimen will participate as a unit in Wheatfield (6 p.m. Friday) and Pickett’s Charge (3:30 p.m. Sunday) reenactments.

Zachariah Truckenmiller has been buried at Zion Cemetery since 1907. But he’ll come to life through his great-great-grandson at the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, where Truckenmiller was wounded on July 2, 1863.

Duane Harer, of Livonia, Miles Township, is a Civil War re-enactor with the 148th Pennsylvania Regiment based in Centre County. He will be among more than 40 local participants in two large Gettysburg re-enactments beginning Friday and running through July 7.

Harer has studied his great-great-grandfather’s life and military experiences, and will join some 20,000 other re-enactors in recapturing Gettysburg’s key moments, from Devil’s Den to Little Round Top.

“Gettysburg, wow, I’ve been there hundreds of times,” Harer said. “I’ve been all over that battlefield. I know it like the back of my hand. I love that place. It’s a big place with so many tales to tell.”

Civil War re-enactors tell the stories of battlefield valor at sites such as Antietam in Maryland, Chickamauga in Georgia, and Virginia’s Bull Run.

For Harer and his colleagues, the 150th anniversaries of key Civil War battles have given the hobby of re-enacting even deeper meaning.

That will be especially true at Gettysburg, where more than 46,000 Union and Confederate soldiers died July 1-3, 1863.

“This is like the Super Bowl of re-enacting,” said John Mort, of Philipsburg. “It’s the biggest event most of us will ever do.”

“Gettysburg is probably the most famous battle in the world, and it was fought on Pennsylvania soil,” said Dave Felice, of State College. “We’re all looking forward to it. It’s all about keeping history alive.”

‘A sight to see’

Two re-enactments will be held at Gettysburg over the next 10 days, with weekend events serving as bookends to the actual anniversary at the national park site.

Most local re-enactors will be involved in the 150th Gettysburg Anniversary National Civil War Battle Re-enactment (www.gettysburgreenactment.com), sponsored by the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee. It will be held July 4-7 on private property outside the town, and will feature battles, field demonstrations, living history exhibits, speakers and live entertainment.

That will be preceded by the Blue Gray Alliance event, the 150th Gettysburg Re-enactment (www.bluegraygettysburg.com). Likewise, it will offer battles replays, demonstrations, speakers and other activities.

Each organization claims its event will be the best.

Mort, Harer and Tom Good, of Philipsburg, will be among the handful of local re-enactors who participate in both drills.

Mort said he will fight with the 11th Pennsylvania Regiment the first weekend, and join his local 148th for the second re-enactment.

“I don’t think too much about the politics in all of this,” Mort said. “I just want to go down for what it is, in honor of what went on in our state, in the largest land battle ever contested on American soil. I want to be part of all of that.”

Mort added: “For our unit, it took us months to decide which event we wanted to be part of. We decided to be part of the second weekend. But I wanted to take part in both.”

Felice will join them, along with dozens of other locals, on July 4.

Each re-enactment is expected to feature more than 10,000 soldiers, more than 100 cannons and thousands of spectators.

Felice noted that the GAC’s re-enactment will run over four days, despite the fact that Gettysburg was a three-day battle, to allow for more individual encounters to be pulled out and featured — even those that happened simultaneously.

“It’s going to be a sight to see,” Felice said. “The grandstand is sold out for Sunday. A lot of people are interested in seeing this.”

Felice, a commercial fire inspector with the Centre Region Council of Governments, has been running across battlefields in full gear for 21 years.

“On that Sunday, when we do Pickett’s Charge with full cannonade from both sides, it will be just incredible,” he said.

“For a lot of people I know who have been involved in re-enacting for a long time, this will be their grand finale,” Mort said. “I’m not going to quit re-enacting anytime soon. But I know I’m not going to get to see 100 cannons firing at one time ever again.”

‘We take this to heart’

Whether this weekend or next, the re-enactors will be dedicated to looking the part of authentic Civil War combatants.

Mort said many re-enactors spend more than $3,000 outfitting themselves for battle with a tent, uniform, rifle, canteen, leather satchel, boots, ammunition and other items.

“The replica rifles can cost $800,” Mort said. “It adds up very, very fast.

“To be a re-enactor, there are uniform requirements that you have to have. You can’t go out there wearing sneakers and blue jeans. You want to be wearing period-correct glasses. The spectators want to see what proper soldiers looked like.”

Beyond dressing the part, re-enactors study the people and maneuvers involved in each battle to both enhance the experience for themselves and to be true to those they are portraying.

“We admire what they did, and we want to pay homage to them,” Mort said. “Most of us are veterans. We take this to heart.”

“The bravery of the men there and some of the situations they were in, it’s not the same in today’s army,” Good said. “The way they fought, the way they lived their lives while in the service is exciting to read about. But it’s very exciting to try to mimic it.”

Harer, a supervisor at Greenwood Furnace State Park, said his mother told him about Zachariah Truckenmiller’s Civil War experiences, and he was soon hooked on learning as much as he could about his ancestor.

“She had done all kinds of research,” Harer said. “She put me on the right track, and I did the rest.”

His efforts included a trip to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. There, he found his great-great-grandfather’s death certificate and military papers.

“I guess I’m reaching back through the past to get to know my family,” Harer said.

“I dug and dug and dug,” he said. “I got a lot of facts, and the rest I’ve just left open.”

‘A lot of history’

There will be two key moments for members of the 148th during the national re-enactment.

At 6 p.m. on Friday, July 5, they’ll fight in the Wheatfield, where Company C Capt. Robert Forster was killed and Truckenmiller was wounded in 1863.

Then at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 7, an Abraham Lincoln portrayer will deliver the president’s famed address before soldiers from the 148th join thousands of others in re-creating Pickett’s Charge.

“We’ll help with the repulsing of Pickett’s Charge,” Felice said. “The 148th’s job was to keep the Confederates from flanking around.”

“There will be about 10,000 total men on that field,” Mort said. “But by comparison, Gen. Pickett himself attacked with 12,000 to 13,000 men. It’s hard to imagine what that looked like, all those men running across that field.”

Felice normally portrays the captain. But for this re-enactment, he has been promoted to colonel, and will play the role of brigade commander Edward Cross, who was mortally wounded at the Wheatfield.

“I know Dave is probably upset he won’t be able to do the portrayal of Capt. Forster,” said Good, who will step up from his normal sergeant’s role to play the ill-fated Forster.

Felice said he’s excited for the chance to participate, whether as a colonel or a captain.

“It’s going to be awesome,” he said. “We’re going to carry the colors of the 148th into battle, which will make it even better.

“There’s quite a lot of history,” he said. “People from right here were involved in Gettysburg. Centre County was not real populated at the time, but it was well-represented at Gettysburg in the Union Army.”

‘Brother against brother’

Mort was in the Army in Germany when the Berlin Wall fell. Harer joined the Air Force after graduating from Penns Valley and served in the Pacific region.

Both say the more they learn about Civil War tactics, weapons and battles, the more they gain from the experiencing of re-enacting.

“The aspect of standing shoulder to shoulder and sending mass volleys back and forth at each other just sends a shiver down your spine,” Mort said.

“We don’t really know what these guys went through, but we get a taste of it,” Harer said. “We stay in tents for a few days. They lived in tents 365 days a year in all kinds of weather. I get to sleep on a cot. They slept on the ground.”

Good noted that there will be no re-enactment activities on the actual Gettysburg battlefields — the “hallowed ground,” he said — which makes this site different from some events in which he’s participated in other states.

“It will be hot. It will be tiring. It will be fun,” Good said. “And what we’re doing has its part in history, too.”

Camaraderie is a big part of the experience of re-enacting, Mort said.

“I have friends who are Confederate re-enactors and friends who are Union re-enactors,” he said. “And that’s kind of what it was like then — brother against brother, friend against friend. The difference is that after our battles, there will be a lot of hand-shaking, patting each other on the back, dusting each other off and telling each other thanks for being there.”

‘I’ll have to be wounded’

Harer said he often visits that gravesite in Zion, Walker Township, where Zachariah Truckenmiller rests beside his wife, Sarah, who died in 1916.

He recalled how his great-great-grandfather was wounded at Chancellorsville, Va., in May 1863, but recovered in time for the pivotal Pennsylvania battle in July.

After falling at the Wheatfield, Truckenmiller was hospitalized for almost a year.

Harer visited the Virginia battlefield where his ancestor was first injured on the morning of its anniversary two months ago.

“I ended up being there, exactly to the minute, 150 years after he was there,” Harer said. “That was pretty amazing.”

And next Friday evening, just like Truckenmiller, Harer will be among the many living casualties at the Wheatfield.

“I guess I’ll have to be wounded again,” he said. “On the second day of Gettysburg, I’ll go down.”

It’s all part of his ongoing tribute to a man who served his country and died more than 50 years before Harer was born.

And it’s part of being a re-enactor, of honoring the many whose blood sealed the enormous legacy of Gettysburg.

“Some people like to read about history,” Harer said.

“I like to live it.”

Follow Chip Minemyer on Twitter @MinemyerChip.

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