Ivy Leaf - Winter 2013
For the Glory
Photos and article by Marissa Carney
I’m used to being called a Civil War buff, a Gettysburg fanatic. So when the idea came about to do a story on the sesquicentennial of the Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg, this girl was all over it. Not only would I be able to head to Gettysburg for a few days in July, but I also would get to find out who among the Penn State Altoona community is as hooked on history as I am, then write all about it. It was a win-win assignment!
The American Civil War was fought between 1861 and 1865, making 2011 the 150th anniversary of its beginning. The Battle of Gettysburg, often described as a turning point in the war, took place in the summer of 1863, making the summer of 2013 its sesquicentennial. As such a major and important battle, Gettysburg garners a huge amount of attention, even 150 years later. Countless books, articles, and other publications have been written about those three days in the summer heat. Movies and documentaries have been made, music composed, artifacts unearthed, museums built, memorabilia produced; the list goes on and on. People have many different reasons for their interest in Civil War and Gettysburg history, whether they are reading about it, writing about it, or out there on the field teaching about it.
On the Battlefield
Jared Frederick stands atop the Pennsylvania State Monument, binoculars pressed to his eyes, surveying the sacred battlefields of Gettysburg. Satisfied all is well, he adjusts his ranger hat and turns his attention to a visiting family, answering questions and giving trading cards to the children. It is his fourth summer working as a seasonal ranger at Gettysburg National Military Park, and he is absolutely in his element.
Frederick visited Gettysburg for the first when he was just seven years old. From then on, he was hooked on Civil War history and knew he wanted to turn his passion into a career. He took his first steps in doing so when he was 18 by writing, illustrating, and producing Civil War coloring books for children and young adults. He quickly expanded to creating other historic books, paintings, greeting cards, and even t-shirts for history enthusiasts of all ages.
Frederick enrolled at Penn State Altoona, excited about the power-house history program and the motivated faculty who helped set the course for his career. He was able to obtain an internship through the college at the Gettysburg National Military Park, that, in turn, helped lead to his position as a seasonal ranger. “This is like a paid vacation for me. If I weren’t here being paid for it, I’d be here doing it for free in some other manner. It’s very rewarding work, and I think there are very few other jobs where you can have such a wide outreach to so many different people from so many different backgrounds.”
Frederick says he truly enjoys connecting with visitors and finding out why they chose to come to the park. He also is thrilled to share not only the history of the battle, but the meaning of the war, as well: what it meant for emancipated African-Americans, immigrants, individual rights and freedoms, society, politics, transportation, and the country’s destiny. “The war affected society and lifestyle in more ways than we can count,” states Frederick. “It’s our duty to become engaged with the past and engage others in it, too. It’s about making history accessible, but also relevant. It’s about getting novice folks to have a passion and appreciation of it as well.”
Some of Frederick’s other duties as a ranger include giving tours on different parts of the battlefield and conducting children’s programs like “Education Carts,” which allow kids to try on period clothing, and “Join the Army,” where the kids are marched and drilled like soldiers. He also does some research as well as living history to help interpret the lifestyle of the time period to visitors. “I’m really proud to be a representative of this park and the National Park Service. You can teach and inspire, and I’m very honored to be involved in just a tiny part of it all.”
When working at the park, Frederick is able to live in an 1860s farmhouse, right on the battlefield. I am completely caught up in his description of sitting on his porch at dusk, listening to the crickets, seeing the Eternal Flame glowing far in the distance, and imaging Confederate soldiers charging up his driveway. I completely understand when he goes on to say, “It’s hard to fully express the way I feel about Gettysburg. It’s almost incomprehensible to get your mind around what happened here.”
Frederick continues to sell his artwork and has added a comprehensive blog to his activities. History Matters chronicles many of his travels to historic Civil War sites and programs and events at the park. He graduated from Penn State Altoona in 2010, then went on to get his master’s degree in history from West Virginia University two years later. He still has many connections with the Penn State Altoona community and other local history organizations, outlined later in this article.
Just down the road from the park, farther in town, Sister Camilla O’Keefe dons her habit and steps beside the doctor to assist in a surgical procedure on a Union soldier: a simulated procedure, of course. Sister is actually Julie Decker, a Penn State Altoona instructor in nursing; the doctor, her husband. (The soldier is a dummy.) The couple has been portraying Civil War medical staff together for about nine years, explaining medicines and medical techniques used on the wounded during battle. Being a nurse professionally, it made sense to Decker to re-enact as one. Also wanting to stay true to her Irish immigrant history, it also seemed right to portray O’Keefe, who was part of an order of Irish immigrant Catholic Sisters living in Maryland. The Catholic sisters, many of them immigrants, were the only trained nurses at the time of the Civil War, and quickly became the preferred nurses for doctors on both Union and Confederate sides.
Decker spent a lot of time studying her character so that when she participates in living history, she is doing so as accurately as possible. She even visited the convent in Maryland as part of her research. She wears a replica of O’Keefe’s full religious habit, including a cornette, which is a heavily starched collar, a blue habit, and authentic rosary belonging to a sister from the civil war time. “It’s a rewarding experience, and it’s very patriotic that I can do this and re-live history itself. I get to be a teacher of history to younger generations, so it never gets old.” Decker says her family, including her children who participate, could re-enact every weekend in the summer, but choose to do about seven or eight, their favorite events being Cedar Creek in Virginia and, of course, Gettysburg.
“The bottom line is simply this, and I quote the late president Calvin Coolidge, ‘The nation that forgets its defenders will soon itself be forgotten.’ That sums up that living history is the re-enactment community’s way of paying homage to those who fought for their ideals and their convictions.” Decker also states that through the horrors of war, medicine always benefits. It evolves so that treatment can become better. Research shows that today’s triage system and ambulance transport are deeply rooted and directly influenced by the Civil War.
Decker is starting to get involved with World War II and Vietnam re-enactments, as well, where she also will offer the historical impressions of Army nurses. “After reading about what these nurses did on top of what the Catholic Sisters did 100 years or so before them, I very proudly proclaim ... I am a nurse.”
A little farther down the road, at the site designated for battle re-enactment, Amy Turiano squeaks out some warm-up notes on her clarinet, the air around her filled with various other musical cacophony from the 46th Regimental Band. She is getting ready to perform with the band in a Civil War wedding re-enactment. Turiano, an Altoona native, graduated from Penn State Altoona with a degree in Education and now teaches U.S. history and economics for the Hollidaysburg Area School District in Blair County. She had played music all through high school and wasn’t ready to give it up when she came to college. Getting involved with the 46th allowed her to pursue her musical passion.
During the Civil War, regimental bands provided music for ceremonies and concerts in the camps and garrisons but also marched the troops into battle, band members exposed to shot and shell themselves as they played. Their music was intended to keep soldiers’ spirits up and inspire troops. The band was formed in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, in 1861 and traveled with the Logan Guards Militia, also known as the 46th Pennsylvania Regiment. The re-enactors dress in period clothing and even play on original instruments from the mid-to-late 19th Century to honor the soldiers and musicians.
A regimental band is something of a rarity in the re-enacting community. “It’s neat because it’s not something a lot re-enactors see all of the time, so a lot of them don’t know about the Civil War music history. They really enjoy hearing the music of the time period and they appreciate it. It adds to the ambiance.” The band performs concerts throughout the local community and participates in living histories and battle re-enactments across the eastern United States.
Through her travels with the band, Turiano has slowly fallen in love with Civil War history and values being around people who share that love and who want to learn. She also has seen those who come to re-enactments just for the spectacle, end up becoming interested, and then return the next year or attend another living history program. “It’s the teacher in me. It’s a really neat effect to see.”
Although Turiano and the band typically play music, they do participate in actual combat re-enactment from time to time; naturally, that is a completely different experience. “Even though you know it’s not real, when a whole line of confederates comes charging at you, it’s still a little intimidating!”
No matter what role she’s playing, Turiano is happy to be a part of it. “It’s fun. People I know think I’m crazy being out in the heat and wool, but it’s a real joy to do, and the people are amazing. When you spend as much time as we do in the camps with people for years, they really do become your family.”
Closer to Home
Brian Black takes a little bit of a different approach when it comes to analyzing the history of Gettysburg. Black is a professor of environmental studies and history at Penn State Altoona. He has put the two together to have his students study the significance of specific landscapes and places. Having lived adjacent to the battlefields at one time, then returning later on to teach at Gettysburg College, Black became more interested in the grounds themselves rather than what happened on them. “I think the thing that impressed me the most was how one-dimensionally many people knew the battlefield. I grew increasingly frustrated that there was no information about the battlefield itself, almost as if it had always been there. Instead, most historical books obsessed over the smallest details of the battle and soldiers while overlooking the significance of the landscape on which it all took place.”
So in the early 2000s, Black set about writing his own book that could serve as a “biography” of the battlefield. Gettysburg Contested: Preserving A Cherished American Landscape will be released in 2013, during the actual sesquicentennial year. Working with the National Parks Service and its archives, Black put together the story of how the battlefield came to be and the history of its preservation, including construction and erection of monuments and the creation of roadways around the park. “Although I have written other books,” explains Black, “I might be more passionate about this topic than any other because of what the place meant to me. After explaining the different phases of preservation at the battlefield, Gettysburg Contested comes right up to the present controversies that continue to make the battlefield a dynamic part of American life.” Working together, this time as collaborators rather than in a professor-student capacity, Frederick did many of the illustrations and maps included in the book.
Black’s research for Gettysburg Contested helped him understand why the National Park Service was taking certain actions of which he had originally been critical, such as removing the deer population and cutting down trees. In essence, the Service wanted to make the landscape look like it did in 1863. “That has made Gettysburg the single best example of what’s called landscape restoration, which is literally to restore a landscape to what it looked like at a specific time. It takes the concept of those dioramas, those table-top miniature displays, to a whole new level. By re-molding the battlefield, preservationists have made Gettysburg a landscape unique from all others.”
Several years ago, Black began teaching a course at Penn State Altoona called “Gettysburg in American Memory—History 161,” in which students could analyze the battlefields and landscape through classroom lecture and an actual tour of the grounds. But another part of the class entails a trip for students to actually do the work of preservation. Through the “Adopt a Position” program, the class works in the “Valley of Death,” between Devil’s Den and Little Roundtop thinning down or removing woody vegetation to make the landscape better resemble its 1863 appearance. Coming full circle, former student Frederick now teaches that class during the academic year.
Black hopes the field and work trips will continue under Frederick. “Going to the battlefield and working there allows students to see that preservation is an active process. It requires work and people actually need to do things to make it happen. In addition, they learn that preservation is not static. People’s ideas of its meaning change over time, as well.”
Outside of the classroom, Harriett Gaston is working to bring about awareness of Blair County’s own role in the Civil War. Working with the Blair County Historical Society, Gaston, coordinator of minority programs at Penn State Altoona, has been researching and documenting the African-American presence during the war, especially of those from the county.
Recruiting for African-Americans began in 1863, when the War Department established a “Bureau of Colored Troops” to get African-American soldiers to fight for the Union Army. Regiments later became known as the United States Colored Troops (USCT). Pennsylvania had upward of 8,500 men enlisted in USCT, and through her research, Gaston discovered around fifty-five or so of those men were from Blair County. Further, Gaston discovered that nine of those soldiers fought for the 54th Massachusetts, the first formal unit of the United States Army to be made up entirely of African-American men, and the unit which inspired the 1989 blockbuster movie Glory. States Gaston, “In learning about African-American history in Blair County, I’m becoming more and more impressed with the role of African-Americans in the Civil War. I continue to learn, and that encourages me to do more and make more people aware of their contribution.”
Gaston says between twenty and twenty-five men from the USCT who called Blair County home are buried in various cemeteries throughout the county, including Eastern Light and Oakridge. Part of her work with the Historical Society has been to clean up those cemeteries and hold a ceremony honoring the soldiers. She also put her energy into the state-wide kick-off celebration of the sesquicentennial, which was held in 2011. Altoona was chosen as the site for the event because the Loyal War Governors’ Conference, an important political event of the Civil War, took place in the city. Held at the Logan House Hotel in Altoona (now the site of the Altoona Post Office) in September of 1862, governors from Union states met to discuss the war efforts and throw their support behind President Abraham Lincoln, his war policies, and the Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect January 1, 1863. Because of that, Lincoln was able to move forward with his military visions without fear of dissent from the Union states. The actual table the men used as well as other items and artifacts from the conference are on display at Baker Mansion in Altoona.
Says Gaston of her involvement, “My hope is to help with economic development and to be part of the tourism component. I want to reach those groups who haven’t thought about here as a place to learn about African-American and Civil War history. I know that local history is not complete, so I like to think I’m helping add to it, so that we can get a fuller picture of what was done in that time period.”
2013 will offer hundreds of Civil War activities and events in many states, including Pennsylvania. A large amount of those will be centered in and around Gettysburg, of course, including a commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address on November 19. Re-enactments and other events will take place locally, as well, so the time is right to see what it’s all about. Take advantage of the opportunities to learn about a huge part of American history from those who know it best and who are most passionate about it. Who knows. You may even get hooked on history, too.