GETTYSBURG – On a crisp November afternoon, people line the sidewalks of Baltimore Street and Steinwehr Avenue, waiting for the annual Remembrance Day Parade to begin.
Hundreds and hundreds of Civil War re-enactors somberly line-up, unit upon unit,
behind the town’s high school, to march the same path that President Abraham
Lincoln traveled the day he delivered the Gettysburg Address.
The 14th Brooklyn, known as the "The Red-Legged Devils" for their vivid red
pantaloons, march proudly with other Union regiments, a healthy number of
Confederate soldiers and members of a "U.S. Colored Troops" brigade.
Civil War historian Michael Kraus, a curator at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial
Hall in Pittsburgh and the military coordinator for the film "Gettysburg," says
he never loses the thrill of following Lincoln’s footsteps.
"I’ve been re-enacting since 1966," he says, explaining that you "not only learn
history in a three-dimensional way, you can literally feel a part of it."
Most Civil War re-enactors who look forward to the pageantry of this day, he
says, don’t do so just out of a love of history but "also a profound love of
Down through the generations, profound love of country has rarely abated in
America – although we always have been at odds with anything remotely resembling
a profound love of government.
Our temperament as a people – we want to trust our government; we want to believe our leaders are doing the right thing – has been shocked by successive traumas: the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the two wars that followed, the constant threat of terrorism, the invasions of our privacy and, most recently, crushing economic troubles.
"Think of it this way," says U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Pa. "If you told someone
in 2000 that all of these things would happen in the next ten years, they would
not believe you."
Casey says our confidence has been shaken. Yet he sees evidence "that we are
regaining that confidence, in the passion that has been inspired by the Tea
Americans have concluded that the only people they can trust right now are
themselves. They’ve wakened up, shaken off their fears, and decided that
leadership must come from within.
Those Tea Party sentiments always have been within most of us, to one degree or
another, which makes all the more interesting the contempt that is often used to
frame people who sympathize with Tea Partiers’ frustrations.
Kraus says the guys in his regiment of re-enactors rarely talk politics. "But
given the historical backdrop of the original tea party, you probably aren’t
going to find many (re-enactors) strongly attacking people who like … small
After the parade, hundreds of re-enactors pack O’Rorke’s Pub; period music spills out onto the street while, inside, heaping plates of shepherd’s pie and generous rounds of Guinness are passed.
Across the street, the American History Store’s charming appeal beckons. Through
its windows, books can be seen stacked high on wooden shelves alongside toy
soldiers, Civil War replica swords – and Gadsden flags, the Tea Party’s adopted
Behind the store’s cash register, Deric Bardo doles out change and disdain for
the intelligence of Tea Party supporters.
Hearing of it, Kraus is disappointed: "That is really uncalled for. Many people
go to Gettysburg for history. Well, a lot of people equate the Tea Party movement as reliving history."
Bardo’s dismissal, delivered in a crisp British accent, is in sync with every
intellectual elite who cannot comprehend why anyone wants to align themselves
with the Tea Party rabble.
Yet Sen. Casey says such dismissal is foolish. "The anxiety and the passion that
are part of that movement are more widely shared than we realize," he says.
The latest USA TODAY/Gallup poll shows that just about as many Americans want Tea Party-backed members of Congress to take the lead in setting policy during the next year as want President Obama to do so.
As for the intelligence of Tea Partiers, which Bardo questioned, a CNN poll last
summer showed that nearly three-quarters of them attended college, compared to 54 percent of all Americans – while a New York Times/CBS News poll revealed they are wealthier and better educated than the general populace.