Here’s the thing about wool — it doesn’t breathe.
Lynn Herman has been a member of the 148th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, Company C, since 1995 — which means that even in the dead of summer, he’ll match a very thick uniform with a pair of uncomfortable shoes and re-enact battles from the Civil War.
On Monday, Herman and the other 20 to 25 people in his unit will take part in the Memorial Day festivities in Philipsburg.
Below, he talks more about bringing the past into the present.
Q: When did you first get involved with re-enacting?
A: It was July of 1995. My first event was the bicentennial celebration of the borough of Bellefonte. That was in Talleyrand Park and I remember it very vividly because I was wearing wool and it was 100 degrees.
Q: What drew you to re-enacting? Why did you decide to get involved?
A: Well, I have a degree in history, a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and the Civil War period was always one of my favorite subject matters in college. … I was approached by someone who said they were starting a re-enactment group in Centre County, portraying the soldiers of Centre County and specifically Company C, which was recruited from Farmer’s High School. From a historical point of view it just fit my interest very nicely.
Q: How much preparation goes into each re-enactment?
A: Well, most of us have a lot of experience so it’s a matter of packing our gear, our rifle … cartridges … caps … and your clothes and tent and tent poll and all your accouterments that go toward the camping, but everything we do is period and we stress very closely period authenticity. … Everything that we have and that we take to the re-enactments are replications of the uniforms, guns and camping equipment that would have been used between 1861 and 1865.
Q: Where do you get the replicas from?
A: We get that from what we call sutlers or various Civil War stores. Most of them are in Gettysburg, but then also at re-enactments they have what they call sutlers. ... When we go to re-enactments there might be anywhere from 40 to 75 different sutlers there to provide the camp materials and accouterments necessary for all participants.
Q: What is the most difficult aspect of some of these battles to re-create in terms of maintaining the authenticity?
A: I think probably the most difficult thing for those who organize the event is to lease or rent a farmer’s field and then we re-enact different scenarios. … The organizers have to do everything they can to re-create those facilities and topography of that original battlefield.
Q: Do you think that these re-enactments, for people who come and watch, help them to get a better appreciation for history?
A: Oh yes, very much. The spectators who come and watch the Civil War re-enactments get a better appreciation for what is unfolding before their very eyes and what life may have been like during that time. Of course there would have been many Civil War soldiers and real live people dying or being wounded.
Q: Do you think that this takes on a special significance around Memorial Day?
A: Well locally there’s a special significance around Memorial Day because of the significance of Boalsburg laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day.
Q: What’s been your best experience on the re-enactment field and why?
A: I think that all of the 150th year events were significant. I can remember the 150th anniversary of the Battle of First Manassas. … I remember that because it was so hot and humid. I think, obviously for a lot of units, the Battle of Gettysburg, re-enacting the battle of the Wheatfield at Gettysburg as well as the Battle of Spotsylvania, where the 148th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry played a significant role in both of those battles.
Q: What’s the most uncomfortable part of your uniform? Or is it just generally uncomfortable?
A: Just because it’s made of wool and it’s also the footwear. They’re called brogans, and they are made of leather that comes up over your ankles and they are flat. ... They also have like a horseshoe on the heel to protect the heel. They are very heavy and when they get wet they become very brittle and inflexible and very uncomfortable to walk or run in.
Q: Does having that experience literally walking a mile in another person’s shoes give you a better appreciation for what soldiers were going through back then?
A: Absolutely. I mean you can read all the books you want about the battles and until you’re out there actually performing battle movements and walk over the same or re-enact over the same ground and trip over the same locks the soldiers did a century and a half ago, then you really get a real feel for what it was really like.