The re-enactors are mainly a friendly, chatty bunch, eager to indoctrinate anyone curious about the hobby – especially for the 150th anniversary.
Ken Janson is traveling all the way from Chiloquin, Ore., as captain of a group that portrays Hurt’s Battery, light artillery from Alabama during the Civil War. But this re-enacting crew is based on the West Coast, and it’s lugging two cannons and three horses with them, too, to take part in both Gettysburg events this year.
“I figured driving that far, we might as well do as much as we can,” said Janson, a retired teacher who will turn 66 while at Gettysburg.
Janson said he has no emotional or political allegiance to the Confederacy any more than he does to the Union. He’s simply fascinated about the period and the complex nature of the war and its aftermath.
“I admit it, I’m just a big kid and I love making big noises with cannons,” he said in a phone interview.
But for him, re-enacting is more than just about faux battles. He especially enjoys the interactions with visitors to the re-enactor camps – and yes, the participants will stay in tents, too, as the real soldiers did.
“Just to get people to think that (the war) was way more complicated than what people believed,” he said.
Minton, the federal commander, started getting involved around the time that the 1993 movie Gettysburg was released. The film, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara, inspired many others like Minton to get involved, too.
Minton looks forward to the camaraderie built up around campfires at night, exchanging stories and ideas about the war.
“We all have different areas that interest us. What an incredible learning tool,” he said. “If you picture talking to these people constantly, it just grows into real, good friendships … It really makes an event almost a reunion.”
One in which most participants are wearing wool clothing, anyway, to match the authentic uniforms of the Civil War.
Patrick Davis, 57, of West Chester, will serve as one of the top Confederate officers under Gesuero in the second re-enactment, overseeing camps. The purpose of re-enacting, he said, is to help ensure others don’t forget what happened 150 years ago at the crossroads town in south-central Pennsylvania.
“It’s the one everyone wants to do. I mean, Gettysburg is the most studied battle in the history of the world,” Davis said. “It’s kind of the Holy Grail for re-enactors.”