Local re-enactors participate in Battle of Gettysburg

Among the 13,000 re-enactors at the Battle of Gettysburg, Pa., anniversary were Mid-Missourians Pete Oetting and Drew Alexander. They are members of the 24th Missouri Holmes Brigade re-enactors.

Among the 13,000 re-enactors at the Battle of Gettysburg, Pa., anniversary were Mid-Missourians Pete Oetting and Drew Alexander. They are members of the 24th Missouri Holmes Brigade re-enactors. Submitted

What a sight it was when local Civil War re-enactors marching at Gettysburg’s 150th anniversary rounded the corner from ladies bearing gifts and encouragement to see a field filled with thousands of blue and gray uniforms, smoke rising and weapons popping.

It was quite a contrast for Drew Alexander, a new recruit to the 24th Missouri Holmes Brigade Union re-enactors unit. His only other re-enactment experience had been the 2012 Battle of Lone Jack. In contrast, the Lone Jack re-creation drew a few hundred re-enactors, but the major, three-day event in the east hosted more than 13,000.

“It’s one of those things, you just have to be thrown into,” Alexander said. “Once the cannons go off and your adrenaline rises, you don’t care anymore.”

The sesquicentennial was neither the first re-enactment or the first time at such hallowed ground for Pete Oetting. He’s been stepping into history since the 1970s, even being part of the 1993 film “Gettysburg.”

Alexander met Oetting through the Missouri Museum of Military History, where the former was an intern and the latter a board member.

“I always wanted to re-enact, but I never had the chance until I met Pete,” Alexander said.

Oetting has been with the Holmes group since 1991, and he also joined the Collins Battery Confederate re-enactors unit a year ago.

“I thought it would be good to get a well-rounded view of history,” Oetting said.

Alexander and Oetting bring different knowledge sets to their re-enacting — Alexander recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history and Oetting retired with 29 years military experience.

Differences and modern expertise often fade away when the re-enactors park their 21st century vehicles, change into their 19th century gear and set off on foot to build a campsite.

Being part of a unit helps newcomers like Alexander, who might not be able to afford all of the authentic items and clothing all at once. They also are able to travel together, making it more of a social gathering.

At Gettysburg, the local re-enactors joined the 24th Michigan Iron Brigade. They received the rations of salt pork and hardtack Thursday evening. And Friday morning, they received their ammunition along with an inspiring word from the chaplain.

After that, the next three days were almost non-stop skirmishes set up on the locations and in the same manners as the famous moment in the four-year war.

“Besides getting shot at and marching state to state, we experienced everything those guys would have,” Alexander said.

They slept on the rocky ground and relied on the supplies they had with them.

“After four days, I’m beat; I couldn’t imagine doing it for four years,” Alexander said.

For Oetting, the camp life wasn’t as daunting. Two keys he’s learned: don’t get attached to inanimate objects and lose a fear of germs and dirt.

“You just learn to be happy with simple things,” he said.

Unlike the true soldiers, the re-enactors didn’t battle in triple-digit temperatures or face more fatalities from disease than from warfare.

The people, the weapons, the tactics and the accounts these historians have read couldn’t compare when they were in the moment, particularly at Picket’s Charge.

“I saw the thick, white smoke recorded by observers and journals,” Oetting said.

Every event is a learning process, he said.

“I will keep going, because I keep getting insight,” Oetting said. “If you get to do something physically and apply it to what you’ve read, it cements it in your brain and you have a deeper appreciation for what it took to found this country.”

In addition to bringing history to life, Alexander enjoyed the camaraderie.

“Now, in modern life, I feel less inhibition,” Alexander said. “It was a good feeling — the simplest life to life with no cellphones and campfires at night.”

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