The Bailey's arrived in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on July 3 and began to set up their Civil War era tents along "the street" of the 42nd Mississippi camp. Set on a hill, in a pasture owned by private citizens, the Confederate camp quickly sprouted lean twos, shebangs, and tents; all making up different "streets" of units trying to closely resemble 1863. The Confederate camps were about a mile from the field where the reenactment was to take place. Across a two lane road was another piece of property, also owned by private citizens, which led to "the battlefield", two sets of bleachers to watch the battles, the Union camp, sutlers, food vendors, a living history camp, and tents for special speakers.
The town of Gettysburg was thick with visitors and reenactors alike. Union and Confederate soldiers in period attire, along with their wives strolled the streets of downtown Gettysburg. The scene was a peaceful Gettysburg in 1863. Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee look alikes posed for pictures as an impersonating General Grant jokingly poked his head into many pictures. In reality Grant was not at Gettysburg, he was fighting a battle in Vicksburg, MS. The Bailey's met up with fellow 19th Texas reenactor and Diana residents Ryan Cobb and Shaina Collier, for the kick-off parade. The Texans, dressed in Civil War attire, waited anxiously for the parade to begin. Unbeknownst to them, there had been a robbery resulting in a car chase through the little town of Gettysburg and the parade had been cancelled. "The town was so crowded with reenactors and visitors. The only clue something was wrong were all the helicopters flying around," Bob recalled. "We heard lots of rumors until finally someone spoke with the police and we were told of what had unfolded earlier in the day." The parade was cancelled but the evening was not a total loss, fireworks over the battlefield were yet to come.
Sitting on a rock wall at the high watermark, the Texans enjoyed the sunset as a light breeze blew cooler temperatures and fireflies lit the battlefield. The night was so peaceful and calm yet, sitting on the battlefield 150 years later watching fireworks illuminate the sky was bittersweet for Bob Bailey. For it was July 3, 1863, 150 years to the day that Bailey's 3rd great grandfather, Calvin F. Bailey was wounded during Pickett's Charge.
The first day of the 150th Gettysburg Anniversary National Civil War Battle Reenactment opened with an evening battle entitled, "Crossroads of Destiny"- The Federal Retreat from Seminary Ridge. Reenacting the July 1,1863 battle in which Confederate troops first outnumbered John Buford's Union Cavalry only to be pushed back. For about an hour, fighting occurred between Confederate Major General Heth and Union Major General Reynolds. The Confederates managed to push the 1st Corps back. Not long before the Confederates penetrated the streets of Gettysburg, Bob Bailey's grandfather, Calvin, fighting with the 55th North Carolina, fought alongside the 2nd, 11th, and 42nd Mississippi Infantry under Joseph Davis, nephew of Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, at the skirmish known as the Railroad Cut. About mid-morning, Davis' men met resistance from companies from New York and Wisconsin only to try to find refuge in an unfinished railroad cut, 15-20 feet deep in the center. When the Union line neared the Confederates its flanks became folded back and it took on the appearance of an inverted V. When the Union men reached the railroad cut, vicious hand-to-hand and bayonet fighting ensued. Several Confederates surrendered while others managed to retreat, Bailey's 55th North Carolinians on the northern end and the 42nd Mississippians on the western end, managed to retreat to fight another day. The Confederate losses were about 500 killed and wounded and over 200 prisoners out of 1,707 engaged.1. While that is the description of day one, the reenactment was obviously very different.
The reenactment began just before 7 pm with an announcer giving a synopsis of day one's battle followed by the singing of the National Anthem. A brief barrage of cannon fire preluded the skirmish. Bob, along with Mary and Walker, fell in the ranks of the 42nd Mississippi (based out of South Central Pennsylvania) under the command of Captain Matthew Vandewater, to honor not just his grandfather, Calvin, but all of the men that engaged in the battle at the Railroad Cut. Bob and Ryan Cobb met and fought alongside Vandewater and Company Lieutenant Todd Wiley while participating in the 150th Battle of the First Manassas, two years ago. Bailey, Cobb, Vandewater, and Wiley had become fast and furious friends. "The men and women of the 42nd have welcomed us in as if we were family," commented Mary Bailey. "It gives me goosebumps to battle alongside the same company my grandfather did," replied Bob. "At first I thought I would be so bored and hate it," commented Kacey Bailey, "but it wasn't boring at all. The 42nd are now my Pennsylvania friends! I can't wait to see them again."
The opening battle lasted just over an hour and a half. The Confederates were supposed to win, but as Cobb explained, "The Yankees just wouldn't take a hit." The opening battle was over, more grey laid "dead" than blue. Taps was played by buglers on both sides. Hands were shook and men rose to rejoin their ranks. The announcer asked the crowd to salute the reenactors with, "Hip, hip...hooray!" The Colonel dismissed the units to their commanding officer and men and women were told to fall out. Men and women, yes many women, reenacted in the battle. While many ladies served as Ice Angels, bringing ice to the reenactors on the battlefield, many more pulled their hair up, donned wool britches, brogan shoes, and shouldered arms. Some women rode horses while still more women served as a member on cannon crews. Bob's wife, Mary, fell in the ranks with the 42nd. She pulled her hair up, donned wool, brogans, and shouldered arms right alongside an African American lady, Leslie Ross, from Virginia. Still riding an adrenaline rush, Mary said, "The whole experience was something I will never forget. For me, being a history teacher and being able to get in the ranks, march, and fire a musket in the 150th Gettysburg was a once in a lifetime opportunity. This is living history!"
July 5 ascended on the camp like a sauna. Temperatures were in the upper 80s and were very humid. Camp life was dusty and dirty. The Texans ventured into the town of Gettysburg, once agin fighting traffic and crowds to find the local YWCA for showers. Feeling cooled off and refreshed, some souvenir shopping was in order before the evening battle was to take place. Some time after 7 pm day two's battle, The Wheatfield, was reenacted. The 42nd, along with all of the other Confederate troops, were called to fall in at 3:30. The troops were lined up by company. Water canteens were filled. Guns were checked to see that they were clean and clear of ammunition. Stack arms was called and the troops were told to break ranks and find some shade, the waiting game had begun. One constant about reenacting is the waiting game, cootie up, line up, and wait. About an hour later, troops were called to fall in once again. The Confederate reenactors lined up by Company, then Battalion, shouldered arms and began their march to the battlefield, nearly a mile away. One benefit the event provided was a tractor with a wagon of hay to taxi people to and from the Union side, where the battlefield, food, and vendors were. Kacey and Shaina hitched a ride and rode back and forth several times just to catch a breeze while they waited for the battle to begin. "It was so hot and so crowded, we could barely see what was going on once the battle did start," commented Shaina Collier.
Later that evening, Kacey Bailey told the camp of an interesting experience she had while riding the hay taxi. She had just exited the trailer by the porta-potties when she saw a man enter one and watched as it fell over backwards! Upon hearing the man call for help, Kacey went to find a GAC volunteer. She was trying to explain what had happened but could not stop laughing, all she could do was point. "The volunteer looked at the ports-potties and busted out laughing." Kacey giggled. "The man was rescued and not very happy."
The Confederates marched all the way to the far left side of the battlefield only to be held up once again, for nearly an hour, in the blazing heat. "Thank goodness the Ice Angels made several rounds and someone had snacks in their haversack," commented Ryan Cobb. Several reenactors needed medical attention due to the heat, one young reenactor had a heart attack and died. Finally the announcer completed his description of the battle and the Star Spangled Banner was sung. Cannons opened fire to start the battle. About ten minutes later, the Confederate and Union troops began to advance to reenact the Battle of the Wheat field.
July 6 began just as the previous day had, hot and humid. Captain Vandewater of the 42nd Mississippi gave his men the option of battling both of the days' battles or just the evening battle. This provided the perfect opportunity for Bob, Mary, Walker, and Ryan to walk Pickett's Charge. Bob and Ryan dressed in their grey wool complete with water canteen, haversack, powder cartridge, and musket set off on the same path Bailey's great grandfather did 150 years ago. As Mary and Walker walked ahead of the two taking pictures and video, they met three "boys" from North Carolina returning from their pilgrimage to the wall. They said they were carrying the flag for North Carolina and for all the Southern soldiers that took the field and never went home. Bob and Ryan posed with the North Carolina "boys" and their regimental flag. Hands were shook and words of thanks were exchanged. The "boys" from North Carolina went one way as Bailey and Cobb pressed on to the infamous stone wall. Mary, Walker and Ryan engaged in conversation about Pickett's Charge, trying to understand or better yet comprehend, what the real Pickett's Charge must have been like. "Mom, Dad's crying," Walker whispered. Falling back to wait up for Bob, Mary asked, "What's wrong? Are you okay?" "Yeah, it just feels so surreal. I am making it to the wall for him." Nothing more needed to be said. As Bailey and Cobb neared the fence by Emmitsburg Road, they handed their muskets over to each other, crossed the fence and continued the last 100 yards to the infamous Angle and the stone wall. As mentioned earlier, Gettysburg was thick with visitors. As Bailey and Cobb ascended the hill towards the Angle, Mary and Walker ran ahead. Someone in the crowd must have caught sight of the two Rebels marching because before Mary and Walker made it to the Wall, a small crowd assembled and began snapping pictures. Several Union reenactors in uniform, were milling around the cannons and were asked if they would pose with Bailey and Cobb. The reenactors began to talk and low and behold, one of the men happened to be John Northgraves, the great grandson of Sgt. Frederick Fuger. Fuger was an officer in Cushings Battery, the cannon brigade that shelled the advancing Rebels during Picket's Charge. Bailey and Northgraves posed on opposite sides of the war, reenacting the famous picture, Meeting at the Wall, of Civil War soldiers shaking hands in 1938 at the 75th Anniversary of Gettysburg. Bailey and Cobb on one side of the rock wall while Northgraves and his friends stood on the other. By this time news had spread of the grandsons reenacting the picture. The crowd of spectators grew as pictures were snapped. Cobb told a spectator, "It was a remarkable experience to walk the hallowed grounds that our ancestors perished on, to be there and put yourself in history, to get the feeling of being in their shoes when they made their final march." After making the trek, Bailey turned, looked out over the field his grandfather tried to cross and thought, "Wow, what an honor."
The evening battle was entitled "Thundering Hell"- East Cemetery and Culp's Hill. The battle that evening was much like the previous days' battles, with a few exceptions. The waiting game was played, just not as long. The Yankees wouldn't take many hits. The Union soldiers were hidden in the woods and the Confederates were told to advance to the tree line. After a stalemate of just shooting, several men of the 42nd charged the tree line resulting in major casualties. When cease fire was called and all the smoke cleared, there were four people from the 42nd Mississippi standing. Mary Bailey recalls Lieutenant Todd Wiley telling her, "If I go down, you're in charge!" "This was just my fourth time to be in a battle, I said to Todd, "Please don't go down!" And thankfully he didn't."
July 7 began cool and cloudy but did not stay that way for long. Once the clouds passed and the sun came out, there seemed to be a curtain of humidity all around the camp and the battlefield. Prior to the battle, Regimental Commanders made the decision that each Company would pick three men to form a company of 100 men that would represent Armistead's unit, the Virginian's. The commanders of the 42nd Mississippi selected Cobb and both Bailey men to represent their unit. This group selected 12 men who were to not just reach the wall but to advance over it during the reenactment of Picket's Charge, just as it happened in 1863. Neither Bailey nor Cobb were selected but as Bob Bailey explained, "Just to be picked by the 42nd was such an honor."
One last time the troops fell in ranks and marched to the battlefield, only to wait what felt like two hours in the heat and humidity. Spectators were educated about Pickett's Charge. Three divisions, totaling 12,000 Confederates, stretched shoulder to shoulder over a mile wide as they advanced over rolling hills from Seminary Ridge towards the 6,000 Union troops at Cemetery Ridge. At a terrible cost to human life, Union lines were broken at the "copse of trees" and Confederate soldiers met Union troops at the Angle, forcing them back over the ridge. Lasting only 50 minutes, Pickett's Charge resulted in massive Confederate losses, over 6,000 casualties. Bailey's grandfather, Calvin and the men of the 55th North Carolina fought shoulder to shoulder with the men of the 42nd Mississippi. Calvin was wounded during the Charge and taken prisoner by the Yankees on July 5, 1863. He was sent to a hospital at Davids' Island in New York Harbor. He was paroled under a flag of truce in CityPoint, Virginia on September 27, 1863.
Cannons fired volleys for thirty minutes as spectators continued to arrive for the reenactment of Pickett's Charge. White smoke hung thick over the battlefield as Infantry slowly emerged and began firing. Slowly advancing, the Rebels began to take massive hits and the field became covered with grey uniforms. The Confederate battle flag still flew high amidst the smoke and carnage. The men representing Armisteads' Virginians were the last to begin the ascent. The Virginians marched through the smoke and haze dead center, their only goal was to reach the stone wall. Armistead's men were falling from the ranks in large numbers. Bob Bailey fell 20 feet short of the wall. Walker Bailey and Ryan Cobb advanced to the wall, where they fell one foot from each other within reaching distance of the wall. Walker recalled the battle by saying, "That was really cool, but I am glad the weekend is over." Typical teenager response. Lying on his back, 20 feet away, waiting for the battle to end, Bob recalls looking up when it began to rain. He was thinking, "150 years ago on July 4, 1863, the skies opened and washed blood from the battlefield, just as it is now."
1. Martin, David G. Gettysburg July 1. rev. ed. Conshohocken, PA: Combined Publishing, 1996. ISBN 0-938289-81-0. Page 140.