Thousands of visitors, including more than 10,000 reenactors, began converging on central Pennsyvania in sweltering heat this past weekend to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Gettysburg organizers were expecting in upwards of 80,000 people to visit the historic battlefield everyday through July 7 as the country observes the 150th anniversary of one of the pivotal battles in the American Civil War, reported WRC-TV.
The reenactors alone were expected to dwarf the population of the normally quiet Gettysburg and its 8,103 residents, reported the Patriot-News.
The reenactors said they were able to make an emotional connection with an important part of American history by taking part of the 150th anniversary.
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"You just feel that much closer to history," Mike Benney, of Denton, Md., told the Patriot-News. He was a member of the Confederate 2nd Maryland Company. "Instead of watching it, reading about it, you can kind of live it."
The Battle of Gettysburg, where Union troops held off a Confederate advance into the North led by Gen. Robert E. Lee in a battle from July 1-3, 1863, is seen as one of the turning points in the war, according to CivilWar.org.
In the three days of fighting, 51,112 soldiers died – 28,063 Confederate soldiers and 23,049 Union soldiers, according to the U.S. Army statistics website. Americans lost 36,574 during the Korean War and 58,209 in the Vietnam War, by comparison, according to the U.S. Army website.
The tremendous losses and the mid-summer conditions the soldiers fought in are not lost on the reenactors. Matthew Grason, 27, of Charleston, S.C., told the Patriot-News he imagined that the conditions must have been nearly unbearable.
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"Realizing how miserable we are – and there aren't people really shooting at us – it's a small bit of realization to how miserable they would have been [during the war]," Grason told the Patriot-News. He said the reenactment is "a small tribute to something we'll never understand completely."
Organizers told WRC-TV that reenactors prepared for weeks to create an authentic representation. They said along with the battles, reenactors tried to capture scenes of camp life, drill demonstrations and music.
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