WHO KNOWS but it may be given to us, after this life, to meet again in the old quarters, to play chess and draughts, to get up soon to answer the morning roll call, to fall in at the tap of the drum for drill and dress parade, and again to hastily don our war gear while the monotonous patter of the long roll summons to battle?
Who knows but again the old flags, ragged and torn, snapping in the wind, may face each other and flutter, pursuing and pursued, while the cries of victory fill a summer day? And after the battle, then the slain and wounded will arise and all will meet together under the two flags, all sound and well, and there will be talking and laughter and cheers, and all will say: Did it not seem real? Was it not as in the old days?A Confederate soldier, Berry Benson, wrote these words 100 years ago, when there seemed little promise that soldiers dressed in blue and gray would ever talk and laugh and cheer together.
But Benson's promise came true. Today, thousands view that war as he did. Cleansed of pain and blood, the Civil War is a glorious game.
Dave Cook, a re-enactor and member of the Utah Civil War Association, says, "Benson's words have become our oath. The embodiment of what we do."
And what is it that Civil War re-enactors do? They dress, from the skin out, in museum-quality replicas of Civil War uniforms; they arm themselves with fully firing models of 1860 muzzleloaders; they drill and practice together; then they travel to the sight of an actual Civil War battle, where they adopt the name, the rank, the company, the battalion and the fate of an actual soldier; and they act out the battle.
This June, 25 men from the Utah Civil War Association and 10,000 other re-enactors from around the world will meet in Pennsylvania. The 125th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg is going to be the biggest re-enactment of them all.
"We've talked and dreamed of this since 1963," says Cook. That's when, for the centennial celebration of the Civil War, history buffs first acted out some of the more famous battles.
Richard Wright, a lieutenant in the Logan Police Department who prefers to be a private in the Union Army, says the craze started in the East. "Re-enacting really got big in the East during the centennial. Lots of collectors had original uniforms and original weapons and canteens. But other people were making up costumes out of polyester. Everything was mixed in. It wasn't authentic.
"Over the years it's slowly evolved so that there are companies who manufacture the uniforms, just the way they were made then. Exactly. Down to the brass or bone buttons. Everything is cotton, linen or wool woven just like it was. They actually count the number of threads per inch."
Now, says Wright, soldiers wear neither polyester nor an original uniform. The national re-enactment groups stress that original uniforms and weapons should be preserved. So, re-enactors spend $1,000 to buy a brand new/antique uniform and weapon.
Jared Cornell, commander and drill instructor of the Utah troops, bought his uniform piece by piece over five years. Now he has some extra pieces that he loans to new members.
Cornell has been putting the 81st Pennsylvania (which is Utah's historic company) through their paces since the group began five years ago. "We've been a boot camp," he says. "I bet we've trained 200 BYU students who graduated and move away and joined other groups." Though most of the Civil War re-enactors live in Utah County, the club has members all around the state.
"The drilling in the Civil War was entirely different than now," he says. "It takes some very elaborate maneuvers to form a line of battle, two ranks deep keeping the same row in front. It's especially complicated when you start turning corners.
"We use the original drill manual written in the 1850s, `Hardee's Tactics.' "
MARCUS DETLOR is a student at Brigham Young University majoring in history. A summer job in a historic fort in his native Canada started him itching to wear the wool uniform of another era. "Living history is like time travel," he says. "You aim for the moment when you are wearing the clothes and hearing and seeing and smelling the battle around you. And you lose yourself for a few seconds. You are really back in that time.
"That's the golden moment we are all seeking."
Gettysburg will be his first re-enactment. And, Cornell believes, there won't be a larger one held ever. The battle can't be staged on the actual historical site (the ground would be damaged by all those people, horses, and artillery) so it is held within a few miles, on very similar terrain. But even though it's held on private property, logistics and the politics of the various re-enactment groups are becoming more complicated, Cornell says.
Several film companies will be recording at Gettysburg so if it is the pinnacle of living history, this re-enactment will be properly recorded for posterity.
The actual Battle of Gettysburg involved 120,000 men and took place on July 1-3, 1863. (Because there will be a huge peace gathering on the actual battle site on those dates, the re-enactment will be held on June 24-26.) The South was defeated. Gettysburg was the turning point of the Civil War.
Cook explains that Utah's 81st Pennsylvania will combine with a California unit, the 88th Pennsylvania, and play the part of the 88th the first day and the 81st the second day.
During the three-day re-enactment, the battalions will drill in the mornings. The all-day battles, according to Cook, will be compressed into three hours in the afternoons. "But they will be accurate in the particulars," he says. "For instance, we already know which man in the 88th will play the soldier who captured the Confederate flag and won a medal of honor.
"To the spectator (who buys a ticket for $4 to $6) it will look like a pageant," Cook says. But to the entrants (who pay $3 for firewood and water and a place in the adventure) the battle will be something more.
Wright says three types will be coming to Gettysburg. First there are the skirmishers, who like to shoot black powder and compete in target contests. Then there are the actor-type re-enactors. "Part ham, part history buff," as Cook calls them.
Some are more ham than historian. No one wants to be chosen to die in the first volley and have to lie on the ground for the entire battle, but there are re-enactors who have pouches of fake blood in their pockets and are ready, even anxious, to give it their dramatic best when their time comes.
Finally there are the living history buffs, like Wright. Ever since his boyhood in southern Utah, where he watched the filming of "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," he has wanted to live a soldier's life. Living historians like to specialize, and he has come to be very interested in the way the soldiers ate.
"At the Gettysburg re-enactment there are going to be guys going out for hamburgers at night and sleeping in campers," Wright says sadly. But not the 81st. They are going to have their one standard-issue wool blanket, and Wright is going to fix the stews and hard tack the Civil War soldiers lived on substituting canned meat for the rancid beef the soldiers actually ate.
And the rations will be larger. "They were smaller men and didn't require much food," says Wright. "You didn't see fat soldiers.
"But a modern man couldn't live on what they ate. Or live on one canteen of water a day, either. We aren't used to wearing those wool uniforms. I need two canteens of water a day."
So you compromise a bit, he says, but still you find what you are seeking from Gettysburg. For Wright, it's the camaraderie of sleeping on the ground and fighting together (without the danger of dying). It's getting away from the world of work and responsibility and knowing what a soldier's life was like.
That's what Gettysburg will be about for him, and he can capture the same feeling living in a fort for a week, or trekking across the plains on foot both re-enactments of a soldier's life that he's participated in before.
But for some re-enactors, like Dave Cook, the ultimate experience is a battle, and it has to be a battle in the Civil War.
"Most of these re-enactors realize the tragedy of war, more so than most civilians," he says. "What we are trying to capture is that last gallant war where there were no good guys or bad guys. Just honorable men, proving their courage.
"And they believed that courage in battle was the ultimate test of manhood. You can read it; it stands out in their letters and diaries. They expected to stand up, shoulder to shoulder, and they knew God would look into the hearts of each and let only the evil and the cowards die.
"It was a sad realization to find that bullets flying in the air so thick and fast weren't any respecters of pure hearts."
But, for what it's worth, today's Civil War re-enactors are great respecters of those actual soldiers. They talk about their motives. Wright says he thinks the common soldier wasn't much interested in slavery. The Northerners were defending the Union and the Southerners were defending their homes. If he were alive then, he says, he'd have fought for the Union, for manifest destiny, for a nation stretching far to the West and far to the South.
Cook is a Union soldier because that's where he's needed. Most re-enactors root for the underdog. "In these national groups there are four Confederates for every Yankee," he says. Cook, whose father is from Georgia, says the South was fighting to preserve democracy in itspurest form, fighting for a cause as noble as the Union cause.
Cook wears his uniform to visit elementary schools as well as battlefields. For him, as for most re-enactors, the Civil War is important to America morally, culturally, historically. He wants to keep the Civil War alive.