The Union and Confederacy are meeting again at Gettysburg as re-enactors fired the opening volley Friday morning from their muskets to begin the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the pivotal Civil War battle.
About 200,000 people are expected to visit this crossroads town in south-central Pennsylvania over a 10-day period to commemorate the battle, which took place July 1-3, 1863. The schedule is chock-full of re-enactments and battlefield tours, plus the National Park Service’s official commemorative ceremony on Sunday night featuring historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.
The events, years in the making, were planned jointly by the Park Service and a host of community organizers and volunteers.
“It’s been three or four years of planning,” Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst said. “In a lot of ways, this is the Olympic moment for Gettysburg.”
It is one in which one of the battlefield’s most memorable statues was returned to its pedestal after being felled by high winds Tuesday. The monument to the 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry portrays a Union soldier swinging his rifle like a club. The musket barrel was bent after landing on the ground, while the shoulder area suffered a little damage, Litterst said.
The monument restoration staff gave it a temporary fix to allow it to be displayed during the anniversary week events.
Monuments typically mark — or come close to marking — the locations on the battlefield at which soldiers fought. The 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry defended a key spot on the third day of battle against the famed Confederate advance known as “Pickett’s Charge.”
It will stay up through anniversary events before being taken down for more extensive repairs.
“All things considered, the damage could have been much, much worse,” Litterst said.
The Blue-Gray Alliance, a re-enactment group, opened the schedule Friday with its first of three days of battle re-creations on a private farm. Organizers expected about 10,000 Civil War buffs to take part.
The National Park Service programs include a Pickett’s Charge “commemorative march” on the actual battlefield, during which nine park rangers will lead groups representing each of the nine Confederate brigades that took part in the failed assault on the entrenched Union positions on Cemetery Ridge.
Another re-enactment held by the Gettysburg Anniversary Committee is scheduled on a farm north of town July 4-7. Re-enactments are held on private properties.
Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, with about 51,000 casualties. It was the Confederate Army’s northernmost advance in the war.
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