Two hours after breakfast I changed into my Union-blue private’s get-up in my car, and hit the streets. Re-enactors were everywhere: popping into souvenir stores, huddling curbside, jay-walking. I peeked into a McDonald’s and saw people with fake rifles ordering Big Macs. When I made it to the high school parking lot, my rendezvous for the parade, a half-mile of troops in blue and gray were already lining up.
Shocked that I had found the tiny 29th group, Ted pointed my place in line, next to a 40-something who resembled Jeff Daniels (star of the film «Gettysburg»). He told me he’s a doctor in «real life» and has to double during re-enactments as a lieutenant and «medical relief»: «These guys think if they have a canteen they don’t need to worry about exposure.» Behind me, and quite immersed in the moment, a barefaced «corporal» in his late 60s broke character to share his dreams of living in Gettysburg some day: «Not going to happen though. Houses are 40 percent more expensive than in Ohio.»
After half an hour we began our march along central Baltimore Street, lined with century-old buildings and perhaps as many onlookers as paraders. I had no gun. My job was simply to keep in step and stare straight ahead,but I couldn’t help turning to look when we passed a «Robert E. Lee» in the crowd.
The march wound past McDonald’s and ended on the battlefield, where we lined up at the Angle, a low-lying stone barrier where, in recent years, a handful of Union and Confederate re-enactors have met to shake hands, a gesture that began with real veterans in the 1930s. I stood to the side and watched two dozen 21st-century bearded men shake hands and murmur pleasantries for a couple of minutes.
I’m drawn to Alamo stories of underdogs who lose. Now that my parade duties were fulfilled, I drifted from the pack to survey the main reason I had come: the wide field looming below. The spot where I stood, had been the goal of Confederate soldiers on the wild Pickett’s Charge. The damning defeat would push the South into a retreat that essentially lasted 21 months, untilLee’s surrender at Appomattox.
I wanted to walk Pickett’s Charge.