Riding with the 1st Virginia Cavalry at the Battle of Gettysburg

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Riding with the 1st Virginia Cavalry at the Battle of Gettysburg

Wow, what a week. 

Over 10,000 reenactors showed up for the Battle of Gettysburg last week in Pennsylvania, and I was lucky enough to be one of them.   My buddy from service in Bosnia, and also the best man at my wedding, Mike Schramm has been doing reenacting for about 6 years, and has asked me innumerable times to join him.  The 150th Anniversary of Gettysburg seemed a good opportunity to get my first experience doing it.  And my Editor for The American Legion Magazine said he thought it would make an excellent magazine piece, so my wife (as photographer and camp cook's assistant to Mike's wife Jo) and I camped out with men, women and horses for a week.

In the picture above, I'm the one with the darker beard (although I shaved it off yesterday.)   The guy on the left is Mike, who served as the Adjutant to the Confederate Cavalry.  The other man with the beard was the commander of Confederate Cavalry for the battle, Doug Nalls.  He and Mike played the "Good Cop/Bad Cop" to the camp, as Mike generally used his outdoor voice and intimidating presence to ensure that all the supply and planning issues were resolved.  Doug's chief responsibility, other than leading the men and women on the battlefield was regailing us with humorous stories each night.  The young lady on the right was Jennifer, one of the General's staff members, generally running messages since she was quite the equestrian.

Anyway, I will have a ton more on it later, but over the course of 4 days of battles I played the 4th North Carolina dismounted cavalry (galvanized as Union Troops because they needed extra bodies) and then rode with the 1st Virginia once General Stuart arrived at Gettysburg on Day 2.  Because Pickett's Charge didn't involve many cavalry troops, I managed to convince Mike that we should walk it to honor our brothers in the 29th Infantry where we had served together. (In fact, the 29th had been formed in 1917 from units that would have fallen under the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac in the Civil War.)

So, to give you an idea of the scope of how many people were out there, here's a video from one of the grandstands:

The latter part of that video covers Pickett's Charge, which I am going to assume everyone is familiar with.  (If not, CLICK HERE.)  As Mike and I were all that was left of the 1st Virginia Cavalry (the rest having departed to avoid the traffic and get their horses home) we asked the commanding General if we could join an infantry unit.  Luckily, and appropriately since I went to college at The Citadel there, the 7th South Carolina Infantry let us join in with them.  Somehow we ended up on the far right wing of the Confederate lines.  In fact, there may have been less that 50 people to our right by the time we made it to the stone wall.   Or rather, made it to within about 20 yards of the stone wall.

After crossing 700 yards of fields and then a fairly deep creek we came online with the rest of the rebels and pushed to the fence you can see in the video.  All long the lines the Army pressed through the fence, breaking it.  Except where Mike and I hit it, which felt like it had been reinforced with concrete and metal pilings.  Undeterred, we finally breached to the side of the only standing portion of that fence and pushed on.  As history records, we didn't make it.  Mike and I, and the rest of the Palmetto warriors around us all fell when the Union had massed troops not only in front of us, but even starting wrapping around our exposed flank.

Mike had told me before we went in that a lot of people experience a sort of emotional high at the end of Pickett's charge.  He wasn't kidding.  I just didn't expect to be one of them.  But as I fell, Mike was just to my right, and to my left was our adoptive First Sergeant, who an earlier conversation had revealed was an Iraq War Veteran.   As we laid "dead" in the grass, the Union troops moved forward to dispatch what remained of the dwindled Rebel Army. 

"You doing okay" asked one of the Union troops as he walked over me.

"Sure, besides being dead, I'm the picture of health" I replied.  "Where you from, so I know who killed me?"

"14th Indiana" he replied.  As he marched on he looked back "Have a safe trip home now."  And then the man that killed me winked.

Good times with good friends.  Eager to share the pictures and more of the story with you in The American Legion magazine.


ADDED: Somewhere over to the far left of this video is where I died.

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While the majority of veterans in a single service is the Army, you spend an inordinate time on the Marines. You do know there are 4 other services don't you?

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.