There I was, standing at the Union Center, facing west toward the stepping off point of Pickett’s Charge. Having seen the movie Gettysburg, and reading a few books about the battle itself, I couldn’t help but feeling an emotional charge imagining what those men felt on that historic July afternoon in 1863. I was hooked at that moment, in December of 2001, I became a certified Civil War geek. As a child I developed a love of reading at a relatively early age. I started reading non-fiction military histories well before I entered high school. Most of what I read was about World War II and Vietnam. My dad was a Vietnam veteran and had difficulty communicating with laymen about the conflict. I read as much as I could so I could effectively communicate with him.
By the time I joined the Army in 1987, I was well versed on 20th Century conflicts, but my understanding of our earlier conflicts were sadly based on many of the lackluster lectures I had endured in high school and pop culture movies which were never known for historical accuracy. In 1994 while stationed in Germany, I along with three other members of my unit, were sent to an exercise in Stuttgart for a month. During that time, we ended up spending evenings, when not on shift, watching various movies. One of my soldiers had a copy of the movies Glory and Gettysburg. With nothing much else to do we all watched these movies several times. I was impressed by what people were capable of enduring back then.
When I returned to the States in 1996, I did a lot of reading about the American Civil War. I got to work, in a volunteer capacity, with the First Cavalry Divisions museum in Ft. Hood, TX. The docent of the museum, Steve Draper, pointed out that he was actually in the movie Gettysburg. He was a re-en-actor and the bulk of the real actors (not Sheen, Daniels, and Beringer) were re-enactors. One of my soldiers in Germany was in that movie as a Union soldier. I wanted to become a re-enactor but the U.S. Army has a habit of stationing me as far away from Civil War battlefields as possible.
In December of 2001, a year after Susan and I were married, her Father took us on a trip to Antietam and Gettysburg. It was my first time stepping on a Civil War battlefield. I was hooked. There was so much to see and the two days we spent there did not do it any justice. I needed more. Since 2001, I’ve been back to Gettysburg and Antietam about half a dozen times. If I have anyone to really blame on me being a Civil War geek it would be Susan. When I met her I was awed that a person with a Bachelor’s degree would stoop to date a person without one. She got me started on my path toward not only a bachelor but also a master degree in history. Part of my studies involved reading primary source documents written by some of the people that fought in the Civil War. Back to blaming Susan. In May 2007 she had a surprise for our anniversary, she had purchased me a replica Springfield 1861 rifled musket. That was the very first piece of a growing kit for my re-enacting hobby.
When I retired from the Army we moved to Lafayette Indiana. In 2009, I contacted Ron Wilkins who was the company commander of a unit that portrayed Company K of the 19th Indiana Infantry. The 19th fought as part of the Iron Brigade of the 1st Division of the 1st Corps of the Army of the Potomac in most of the battles in the Eastern theater of the war from 1862 to the Battle of Gettysburg. After helping me acquire the initial parts of my kit, I fell in with that unit at a couple of local re-enactments and living history events.
In September of 2012, I got to participate in a living history/re-enactment for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. We slept on the ground outside of the Dunker Church, retraced the steps of the Iron brigade, and put on demonstrations for the public. As awesome as this was it was to participate in that anniversary event, nothing compared to what would take place in the summer of 2013.
In July of 2013, I got to participate in the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg along with 11,000 other re-enactors. This was my first national event. As we marched to re-enact our Iron Brigade’s pivotal role in that epic battle I heard the fife and drum corps play “The Campbells are Coming”. Every hair on the back of my neck stood up. I was transported back 150 years, I was hot, sweaty, tired, and excited all in the same moment. The final day we participated in the Union repulse of Pickett’s Charge. When the horn sounded the end of the battle we looked out over hundreds of Confederate re-enactors prostrate on the field. I couldn’t help but feel how awed those Union troops must have felt in 1863 when they observed a similar but considerably more bloody scene.
I have met so many terrific people along the way I in this hobby. Their experience range from high school students to real estate agents. Education ranges from GED to PhD. All of them share a passion for the hobby and are part of the reason I will be in this hobby until I’m unable to physically do anything. All kinds of personalities come out in these events and they are the greatest group of geeks I know.
Below are some of the fantastic influential people I’ve met:
Ron Wilkins, Chuck Vonins, William Eichler, Joel, Sam, and Kimberly Foust, Andy, Brian, and Matthew Wash, Dietrich Smith, Rob Van, Jon Mitchell, Scott Cummings, Brandon Kreisher, and probably dozens more I can’t call to mind.
Although I live in Texas now, I’m still involved with my Unit in Indiana. I’ve been to the 154th anniversary of Perryville, I’m going to the 155th anniversary of Shiloh and plan on attending the 155th of Antietam in the fall of 2017 and Gettysburg in the summer of 2018. Words don’t begin to express my fascination with the hobby. It really is a marrow deep desire to travel back in time and experience what those brave men on both sides went through. Being a geek is not cheap. I have a couple thousand dollars’ worth of books on the Civil War, my kit cost over 2000 dollars and I’m constantly updated or working on it to make it better. My wife never ceases to surprise me with historical odds and ends. I wouldn’t trade this hobby for anything else. I am eternally grateful for her support of my eccentricities.
Your Civil War Geek