Make Time to Make History

by guest blogger Jeff Csatari, executive editor of special projects for Men’s Health

It’s way too easy to say, “I just don’t have the time.”

With the kids’ swim meets and horseback-riding lessons, family obligations, and deadlines to meet at work—in other words, in the rush of real life—how to you find time to pause and spend some with your brother and your dad?

You make time.

I called my brother Joe: “Let’s take dad out to Gettysburg. We’ll watch the re-enactment of Pickett’s Charge, tour the battlefield and museum, have dinner—just us guys.”

“You’ve gotta be kidding,” he said. “We leave for vacation in four days and have laundry to do to…um…let’s go!”

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the infamous “three days in July” that in 1863 marked the turning point of the American Civil War. General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army of 75,000 men, horses, and artillery met General George G. Meade’s 97,000-strong Union Army in one of the largest battles ever fought on U.S. soil, resulting in 51,000 dead, wounded, missing or captured.

Gettysburg National Military Park in south-central Pennsylvania is about a three-hour drive west from our homes. We spent the morning touring encampments of the Confederate and Union Armies. Officials estimated 10,000 re-enactors were taking part in large-scale historically accurate battles organized by the Blue Gray Alliance, an association of re-enactment groups from around the United States. Their event was staged at Bushey Farm on Pumping Station Road, outside of the Military Park. Re-enactments are not allowed in the national park because it is hallowed ground.

Re-enactors are an interesting bunch. Most will spend more than a thousand dollars on period uniforms, shoes, eyeglasses, muskets and other equipment to fit into the role they choose to portray. They camp in floorless white canvas tents (some retreat late at night to the comfort of RVs or hotels), cook in cast iron over wood fires, and hide their modern coolers in wooden boxes to preserve the authentic look of their campsites.

Tom Aloisio of Johnston, Pennsylvania, built his own rope bed based on a Shaker design when he was a commanding officer in the Union’s Fourth Brigade Field Hospital. That was before health problems kept him from participating in battles like today’s reprise of the fighting at Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, The Wheatfield, Culp’s Hill, Cemetery Hill, and The Peach Orchard.

“I miss it,” said Aloisio. “Where else can you go and blow off all the black powder you want and then sit around a campfire at night and tell lies.”

Aloisio’s entire family has participated in Civil War battle re-enactments for more than a decade. His daughter, who started in the hobby at age 10, was proposed to during a “battle” and even had a Civil War–themed wedding.

Sean Theiss and his brother Bubba traveled from the Dallas metroplex to attend the 150th anniversary re-enactment battles. “My great grandfather fought at Gettsyburg for the 4th Texas Infantry. I wouldn’t miss this for anything.”

“This started as a hobby many years ago,” added Ron Paynter, a white-haired gentleman from Dallas, who role-plays a Confederate captain with the 15th Texas Cavalry and is a commanding officer in Cleburne’s Division of Re-Enactors. “This is now my passion.”

Events commemorating the Battle of Gettysburg will take place throughout the rest of the summer and into the fall. (Find out more at www.gettysburgcivilwar150.com). From November 19 to 24, ceremonies and re-enactments will focus on the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, marking the president’s dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.

"Lincoln" by Joseph Csatari

And of course, there will always be the quiet battlefield to witness and reflect upon, as well as the remarkable Gettysburg Museum and Visitors Center and its hallmark Gettysburg Cyclorama, a sound and light show featuring a 377-foot painting done in 1884 by French artist Paul Philippoteaux. Painstakingly restored in 2008, the massive artwork engulfs spectators in a 360-degree, three-dimensional diorama depicting Pickett’s Charge.

My father Joseph Csatari, an illustrator and artist whose career has spanned 60 years, could not believe that the scene before him was actually an oil-on-canvas painting; it was so enormous and so perfect in perspective.

“This is an American Sistine Chapel,” he declared. “I am so happy we came.”

I’m so glad we made the time.

Jeff Csatari, executive editor of special projects for Men’s Health, is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Belly Off! Diet, and co-author, with his father Joseph Csatari, of Norman Rockwell’s Boy Scouts of America. He has been reporting and writing about health, fitness, and men’s issues for more than 15 years. Csatari’s other books include Your Best Body at 40+, The Abs Diet Cookbook, co-authored with David Zinczenko, and The Six-Pack Secret.

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One Response to Make Time to Make History

  1. Sam Leonor says:

    Very inspiring. Was not planning to visit, but now that I know the importance of the season and the occasion, I will visit Gettysburg this year. Thank you for sharing this information.

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