Local Civil War re-enactors commemorate 150th anniversary of Gettysburg

News-DemocratJune 29, 2013 

At the beginning of July in 1863, few troops from Illinois were present as the most pivotal battle of the Civil War began to unfold in central Pennsylvania.

Now, 150 years later, 10,000 re-enactors are set to recreate the historic battle at Gettysburg.

Making sure their uniforms, shoes, arms, packs and tents are as accurate as possible in every way is a top priority to the serious and dedicated re-enactors. But the one little detail concerning the fact that few Illinois residents were on hand for the original battle won't stop dozens of local Civil War buffs from making the trip to the hallowed grounds for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

"The 150th is a big anniversary, so people from all over the country will be headed there," said Richard Norris, of Edwardsville, who portrays a Union Brigadier General in the 2nd Division Army of Southeast Missouri XIII Corps. "A lot of guys who do these re-enactments are getting up there in age. I'm 72, so I want to go to the 150th anniversary because I'm probably not going to be around for the 175th. There are a lot of us are getting too old to sleep on the ground in tents."

The re-enactors are from all walks of life. Some are teachers, accountants and doctors. Regardless of their background, they're willing to spend thousands of dollars to clothe and equip themselves as authentic 19th century American soldiers -- and then spend hundreds more to travel half way across the country -- to help preserve this history and heritage of this country.

"I think it's important that people don't forget our history," Millstadt resident Bill MacIntire said. "I was a helicopter pilot in the military for 32 years and now I have been a re-enactor for 20. "My country has always been important to me and I've tried to serve it one way or another for most of my life."

Ironically, however, MacIntire will be fighting this time against the country he served when he was on active duty. He's playing the part of a Confederate soldier in the 26th North Carolina Troops.

"I was born in South Carolina but I have ancestors from North Carolina," MacIntire explained of the reasons he will fight for the South while Illinois was on the side of the North. "It's definitely interesting to pull into a Confederate camp with a picture of Abraham Lincoln on your license plate."

Battle recreations began Thursday and will run until Wednesday. Of the 10,000 participants and 200,000 visitors who are expected to show up, MacIntire is likely one of a few people in that group who was also at the 100th anniversary of the battle in 1963.

"My family moved to Harrisburg, Pa., and I went to high school there at the time of the 100th," MacIntire said. "I think that's probably a big reason why I have always been a history buff."

Collinsville resident Jim Achenbach, who loves music and history, joined a Civil War musical unit, the 33rd Illinois Volunteer Regiment Band. He'll be making the trip to Gettysburg with fellow musician Kurt Schutte of Troy.

The pair will play with the 2nd New Hampshire Regiment Band during the 150th anniversary.

A coronet player, Achenbach said his passion for antique instruments earned him an innovation to play in the 33rd Illinois band although it is based three hours away in Bloomington.

"You have to be really dedicated to do something like this because there is a lot of travel involved in addition to the investment in equipment and authentic uniforms," Achenbach said. "You can't just go to a store and buy a costume. People take it very seriously to be historically accurate. People in the audience can't see what you're wearing. But the guys right next to you in the battle can."

Achenbach will be playing a 19th century coronet, distinguishable from the modern version by the fact that it has keys on the side of the instrument that control rotary valves as opposed to buttons on the top that control piston valves. The coronet's history can be traced back to Belleville.

While bands were common early in the war, by the time Gettysburg happened they were mostly gone.

"When the war started, everyone thought it was going to be a short one," Achenbach said. "By the end of 1862 it was determined that this thing was going to take a while and there was a greater need for guys carrying weapons than for guys carrying instruments."

The Union Army ordered unit bands to be dissolved and only regimental bands remained. While the federals had no band at Gettysburg, MacIntire's unit did. The 26th North Carolina Regimental Band famously played waltzes and polkas during the climax of the fighting at Gettysburg.

According to local historian Dennis Hermann, most troops from Illinois during the Civil War fought in the western theater while Gettysburg was part of the eastern theater. Because of that, the only regiment from Illinois to participate in the Battle of Gettysburg was the 82nd Illinois Volunteer Infantry which was commanded by Col. Friedrich Hecker.

Organized in Springfield in October 1862, the 82nd had 56 members who were from St. Clair County. It lost 23 men in battle at Gettysburg and had 89 men captured during the battle.

Hecker, who is buried in Summerfield, was a friend of President Abraham Lincoln.

Gale Redd, a local historian with the Belleville chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said Gettysburg is one of the most important historic events in the nearly 250 years of existence of the United States.

"The war, up to that time was inconclusive at best," Redd said. "That battle did not determine the outcome of the war on the battlefield, although more were wounded or killed than any other battle of the civil war. But it was a turning point because of the loss of life. The South was not able to replace the men it lost."

Before Gettysburg, the population of the north was not fully behind the war because the Union Army had suffered more losses than wins. And the Confederates were desperately hoping to convince the English or French to join the war on their side. The Union win rallied support for the war in the North -- and convinced the Europeans not to get involved, dooming the South to an inevitable loss, Redd said.

While many re-enactors are participating in both sessions of the commemoration, Norris said he is nervously trying to clear the remaining hurdles for his trip to Gettysburg.

While it's his dream to go to the 150th anniversary event, Norris' group is still trying to raise funds needed to send eight of his troopers to Pennsylvania. He said he needs about $1,500 toward a total bill that is expected to reach $4,500.

To make a donation, contact Norris at 618-616-0420.

Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at swuerz@bnd.com or call 618-239-2626.

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