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  • Did you ever have a dream where you were watching a movie one minute, then the next minute you were IN the movie, part of it, one of the characters in the scene? It was kind of like that – only, it wasn’t a dream. Actually, it was like I’d read the book, then I’d gone to see the movie, and then I was in the movie.

    Kathy dropped me off at Dean Shulz’ farm, the same farm that the historians referred to as the Baker Farm, across which the troops from Neill’s Brigade had marched from the Baltimore Pike up to the place that would become the far right flank of the Union line at Gettysburg.

    I was about 45 minutes early, so I took some time to read and meditate down by Rock Creek there, then I went up into the farm yard, and sat on a white metal bench that wrapped around a tree that I would later learn my Great Grandfather most likely sat on back in 1938, when he came to Gettysburg for the 75th anniversary of the battle. This same bench had sat at the top of one of the towers that overlooked the battle fields back then, and according to Dad’s cousin, Austin McGrath, who accompanied Martin to that event, he climbed up all the towers during their nine days here, then. No doubt, at 91 years old, when he got to the top, he sat down to catch his breath.
  • Just then, like out of a dream, up from the Baltimore Pike marched a small band of soldiers. Dean introduced me to them, and I marched along with them as they climbed the steep hill that led up to the field across which lay Neill Avenue. They were very welcoming to me. They marched across the field, onto the avenue, and up the avenue to the hill in the woods at the very end of the avenue, atop which stood, proudly, the monument to the 61st Pennsylvania Volunteers. A solemn ceremony was held there, in which Captain Chris Monzi reviewed the events of the year, expressed sorrow for some members who were lost during the year, then read from a list of 9 Congressional Medal of Honor winners from the 61st Pennsylvania. Lieutenant Colonel Rob Wingert, the founder of this regiment of reenactors, then got up and spoke to the troops about matters of import, then a few others had some words for the troops, then the ceremony ended with a solemn salute to those who went before them.
  • As pictures were being taken of different members in front of the monument, Captain Chris insisted on including me in one of the pictures. As we walked back down the avenue, he asked if I’d like to march with the regiment in that day’s Remembrance Day parade through the town of Gettysburg. Would I? I’d be more than honored to march with these guys.

    So, we road our horses (actually, rode in Chris’ vehicle) over to his house, where I was outfitted in a uniform that roughly fit, we went into town to grab some chow, and then the whole world warped back into 1863. We parked his car at a spot that would be close to the parade’s end, then we began the long walk back to where the parade would be forming up, back through the town. Everywhere we walked, troops were forming up, civilians were dressed like they dressed in 1863, and everyone seemed to be in character for that period. The entire town was into the scene – as was I!

    Walking ahead of me was a young lad carrying a drum on his back. He was the regiment’s drummer boy. I asked him how old he was. He was 13 – the same age as Martin Hager when he signed on to beat the drums of war. He’d been 15 at Gettysburg. But seeing this boy with his drum helped me to see Martin back then. I only ever saw pictures of him as an old man. Now, I had a better sense of his youth, then.
  • As we fell into formation, I was given a musket to carry. It was real. I had a number of maneuvers to learn, both march steps, and musket carrying maneuvers. I was a quick study, and didn’t make any serious blunders the entire march. We were near the head of a long column of marchers, both Union and Confederate soldiers, as we marched through town to the cheers of the crowds, many who showed their appreciation by saluting us and showering us with flower pedals.

    It was a truly amazing day. I can tell you that, towards the end of that parade, which seemed to go on forever, that rifle was awfully heavy, my legs were barking up a storm, and I thought to myself “You’ve just marched a few miles, here. Imagine what it was like to march 37 miles in 17 hours like the 61st did to get here, then to be thrown right into the battle!” It was hard to imagine that, but now, at least, I had a slightly better sense of what that might have felt like. Just slightly, but it took it out of the imagination, and put it into the physical.

    As we marched, you lived for those moments when Captain Chris would order, “Halt! Take a drink!”, and you would take a swig of fresh water from your canteen.

    By the end of the day, I felt like I had known these guys forever. They treated me like I was one of their long lost cousins who they’d finally met, and now I was a part of the family. Indeed, it was much like that. I was invited to join them any time at any of their events. Next year, they will be at Appomattox for the Sesquicentenniel (150 year anniversary) of the conclusion of the Civil War there, the final event of the 4 year Sesquicentenniel of the Civil War. If I can, I will be there – possibly even in uniform! I know I’ll be back to Gettysburg for more Remembrance Days. It is now on my calendar as an event not to be missed!

    Yes, now I can not only say that "I've seen that movie!" - now, I can say, "I've been in that movie!" What a truly amazing honor it all was.
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