Special Interests - Groups & Societies > The Barracks

Battle of Gettysburg Redux


The Sons of Veterans Reserve (SVR), the uniformed wing of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), has sent a letter of complaint against the commanding officer of the 109th Field Artillery (FA), an active-duty unit, to the Pennsylvania National Guard’s Adjutant General:

Major General Jessica L. Wright
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Adjutant General's Office
Fort Indiantown Gap
Jonestown, PA 17038
Phone: (717) 861-8572

First, the players in this drama:

The 109th FA is a National Guard unit based in the Gettysburg area, with men deployed in the Middle East. The unit has taken casualties. Their commanding officer is Lt. Col. Lydic. The 109th FA is a direct descendent of the 143rd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry that fought at Gettysburg and in other engagements. There is a monument to the 143rd PVI at Gettysburg.

The Sons of Veterans Reserve http://www.suvcw.org/svr/svr.htm, commanded by Col. David Medert, sponsors the Remembrance Day Parade in Gettysburg, PA, which commemorates Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and honors American veterans of all wars. It is held the weekend in November closest to the 19th, the date of the Gettysburg Address. The parade is supposed to be made up of reenacting and living history groups that wear military and civilian garb like that worn by those that participated in the original parade honoring the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery on November 19th, 1863. Keep this in mind as you read.

The Liberty Rifles http://www.libertyrifles.org/ is an authentic (meaning they do it right) CW unit that participated in the parade. S. Chris Anders was commanding the LR unit in the parade.

A large group of Civil War reenactors think the letter of complaint is a travesty and an outrage. We interact on the Civil War Reenactors Forum http://www.cwreenactors.com/forums.htm  and the Authentic Campaigners Forum http://www.authentic-campaigner.com/.

Here in brief is the story as well as I understand it:

Last November the 109th FA requested permission from the SVR to lead the parade with the national colors. The request was turned down because the SVR’s rules allow only Civil War-era uniforms and clothing in the parade (not true, though, as you will see). The 109th FA then took position to watch the parade from the sidelines. I spoke with them as they were moving to their spectator position, and they looked very good, disciplined and smart.

During the parade one of the more authentically uniformed CW units, part of the Liberty Rifles, stopped before the 109th FA’s position, wheeled right, and saluted them, which salute was returned. This alone was quite moving and I wish I could have seen it. Then the LR commander, S. Chris Anders, invited the 109th FA to join the parade ahead of his unit. The CO of the 109th FA hesitated, remembering that the parade organizers (SVR) had said they could not march because they were not in period uniform, but he was urged on by the calls and cheering of the crowd which continued cheering for them and the LR as they formed up in the parade route and led the rest of the parade, national colors flying high and proud. After the parade Lt. Col. Lydic was confronted by a member of the SVR and upbraided for marching after being denied permission to do so. Apparently it is the SVR’s opinion that Lt. Col. Lydic intended to defy the SVR and march anyway. This is, of course, not at all the case, as they had to be repeatedly invited to do so and only accepted after the crowd watching began urging them.

It’s here one can say that Lt. Col. Lydic should have politely thanked the LR for their kind invitation but not accepted it, and one would be right in light of the SVR’s rule that only period attire is allowed in the parade and that they had been directly denied permission to march. However, the SVR doesn’t enforce its rule very well and a spectator to the parade could not have missed the times the rule was broken, the most obvious of which was the group marching directly in front of the LR: adolescents of both sexes attired in cowboy outfits, complete with cap guns, Bowie knives, etc. Nor were they the only ones – there were numerous individuals and groups whose “costumes” had only the most tenuous connection to the period, and a few outfits that didn’t belong to the Civil War at all. Indeed, watching the parade, one gets the impression that one could have any outfit that looks like it might have been designed in the 19th century and wear it in the parade. There are no standards for material – a 100% polyester uniform without a single authentic element would be allowed as long as it was either dark blue or some shade of gray or “butternut” (Confederate units also march in the parade). On top of this is the fact that the 109th FA did not insert itself into the parade in defiance of the SVR - it was invited to march and the crowd enthusiastically urged them to do so and cheered them along the route.

I have personally seen unaccompanied “generals” wearing polyester with vinyl boots and toy swords; women with zippered dresses that were in fashion decades after the War; children in play-time cowboy outfits; bagpipers in Scottish regalia; mounted State Troopers; and wannabees in all kinds of outrageously fanciful Civil War “uniforms”; and last but not least, actual “reenactors” with horrible kits who can’t stay in step as they slouch along with their rusty muskets and 50-star national colors marching in the parade. That modern-day active-duty Army personnel who are invited to do so by one of the better reenacting units may not march is ridiculous on its face, given the preceding lack of standards applied to the parade by the SVR.

Here’s one more thing, a post from Bill Watson on the CW Reenactors Forum. I know Bill and admire him as one of the bright stars of CW reenacting. I spoke with him before the parade began. He, like many reenactors, myself included, thinks the parade standards have devolved to where much of the proceedings are a circus sideshow. I think his post summarizes many reenactors’ feelings:

Experiencing War Fervor

Looked at with nothing but logic, the national SUV's position may be defensible. Folks are not using logic, however, because what we're looking at and what pushed our buttons is an attack on an active duty military unit that engaged in what amounts to a patriotic demonstration. That the 109th is a linear descendant of the 143rd PVI fuels the irony -- an organization dedicated to keeping alive the memory of Union soldiers is attempting to smack down an organization that is a descendant of a Civil War unit.

The response to the attack on the 109th is an outburst of fervor I can't recall seeing before on this board, and I've been here almost from the beginning. We are all seeing exactly how war fever spreads -- we are motivated by an injustice and determined to correct an abuse of authority, consequences be damned. Call out the militia, sign up some 90-day men, line the streets with hanky-fluttering women, and beat the drums: We're going to war.

I'd say that if there was a deeper plot here (and I don't believe there is, there is no precedent among us for cooperation to the degree necessary to support the kind of Machiavellian intrigue across time that this would involve), the SUV is playing right into it, marching into a position of maximum vulnerability. The end result has the potential of being either the abolition or reform of a parade that has devolved into a mockery of our ancestors rather than a celebration of them. I say that after attending this year's parade as a spectator in modern clothing, seeing how the whole thing looked from the outside, and listening to the comments as I went up and down the parade route. There were good units in the parade, proud units, and then there were folks who apparently were late for the Halloween parade a few weeks earlier. As all who saw it can attest, the salute to the 109th and their subsequent inclusion in the parade was the high point, the moment most in keeping with the reason Abraham Lincoln went to Gettysburg in 1863.

So what it boils down to is not whether some SUV parade rule not enforced against Yosemite Sam, Steamboat Willie, Scarlett O’Hara and other parade characters of dubious or fictional provenance should be enforced against a modern unit with an actual Civil War pedigree, a unit with members still recuperating from wounds freshly received in defense of the nation. And if their mistake was that, unlike Yosemite Sam and the others, they actually asked permission and were denied, does that make the SUV more right or more wrong? That is, if they'd just marched, like all the folks with cap pistols or street shoes or even banners identifying themselves as modern organizations, would they have drawn the disproportionate response from the SUV of asking the state military hierarchy to "investigate" them?

Dang, I've now pxxxed myself off.

Where's my bayonet? I'm going to war.

Bill Watson
Company I Mess
Potomac Legion

Please consider contacting anyone listed here to get their version of the story and send emails and letters as you feel appropriate. Thank you, and God bless the USA and our troops.

Steel Horse Bailey:
I realize that this is LONG after the original post, but the time for the above mentioned parade again draws near.

I hope the committee gets their sh!* together, pulls their head out of their a$$ and INVITES the 109th FA to march in the 2005 parade!


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